Chinese scientists have begun drilling a 10-kilometre (32,808-foot) hole in the Earth’s crust as the world’s second-largest economy explores new frontiers above and below the planet’s surface.
China’s official news agency Xinhua reported that drilling for what is set to be the deepest well in China’s history began in the country’s oil-rich Xinjiang region on Tuesday. Earlier that morning, China sent its first civilian astronaut into space from the Gobi Desert.
The narrow shaft in the Earth will penetrate more than 10 continental layers, or layers of rock, according to the report, and reach the Cretaceous system in the Earth’s crust, which features rocks dating back about 145 million years.
“The difficulty of building the drilling project can be compared to a large truck traveling on two thin steel cables,” said Sun Jinsheng, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
For his part, President Xi Jinping called for greater progress in exploring the depths of the earth in a speech to some of the country’s top scientists in 2021. Such work could identify mineral and energy resources and help assess the risks of environmental disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Still the deepest man-made hole on Earth is Russia’s Kola Superdeep Borehole, which reached a depth of 12,262 meters (40,230 feet) in 1989, after 20 years of drilling.