Scientists have begun the final leg of a five-year, NASA-funded mission to reach the bottom of Cenote Zacatón in Mexico, the world's deepest known sinkhole. Using the Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (DEPTHX), scientists aim to learn more about Cenote Zacatón's physical dimensions, the geothermal vents that feed it, and the forms of life that exist in its depths.

DEPTHX -- an autonomous submarine that creates 3D maps of previously unexplored areas as it swims along and then uses those same maps to navigate back to the surface -- is designed to survey and explore life in extreme regions on Earth and potentially in outer space. DEPTHX's technology could be applied to future space probes of Europa, where scientists believe that deep cracks and holes in the ice offer a chance of finding extraterrestrial life. The technology has also been approved for a new NASA mission to explore one of Antarctica's ice-bound polar lakes.

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