Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Spirit of Exploration

James Cameron is at it again... yes, the Mr Cameron who has given us some truly amazing films (Terminators 1 & 2, Aliens, Avatar, Abyss, Titanic) and even more amazing documentaries (Expedition Bismarck, Ghosts of the Abyss, Aliens of the Deep) is not only a fantastic director, but is also an Explorer-in-Residence for National Geographic.

James and the Deepsea Challenger

Having accomplished over 70 dives in submersibles (over 30 of these to the Titanic wreck) he helped design and build the Deepsea Challenger, in order to visit the deepest place in the world, the Challenger Deep which lies at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, where the trench reaches a maximum known depth of about 6.78 miles.

Catch that kids? Nearly 7 miles down!

Having left the safety of the world above, Mr Cameron reached the trench bottom mere hours ago (after about an hour-and-a-half descent) where he plans to explore and take samples for up to 6 hours before dropping his weights and coming home (another 70 minute or so trip, since buoyancy will be on his side.

What will he find? No one really knows. I know I am keeping my fingers crossed that he comes back with visual documentation of a large specimen of the giant squid, but that's just a wish (scientists don't think we've ever seen a fully grown specimen so they have no idea just how large they really get).

"Say Cheese!"

Still, even without that, scientists are hoping that by exploring the depths of the Trench, that we can get a feel for what just may lie beneath the (possible) liquid ocean beneath Jupiter's icy moon Europa. The things that are discovered in the next few hours could exponentially help with the creation of an unmanned submersible that would be flown to Europa one day to explore the depths of that hidden ocean. How, you ask? Well, by discovering what fuels life in those cold, dark depths (which aren't fueled by sunlight, like here on the planet's surface, and it is not fueled by hydrothermic vents, like we find around underwater volcanoes) any life discovered here would likely be as alien as we could hope to find on any moon.... understanding the life that is in our (albeit hard-to-reach) backyard could be just the step we need to prepare for discovering life elsewhere.

My geek is showing, isn't it?

Am I excited? Oh yeah. While it will be awhile before the details are fully released, 3D cameras are rolling on the submersible, not only for scientific purposes, but for documentaries! National Geographic plans a special edition based around the expedition, but sadly that isn't expected until January of next year. I am sure though that we will be hearing a lot more about this expedition as the days and months go by. I am still literally jumping up and down and squealing with glee over what must be going on now, miles below the ocean surface.

Need more reasons to be impressed? How about the fact that this is a one-man mission deeper into the ocean than Mt Everest is tall? Depths where the pressure outside is over 8 tons per inch! How about setting a record for the deepest one-man dive ever? While this dive was done before, originally by Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in 1960, they only stayed below for 20 minutes, and could not move around, so visibility was practically nil.

Want to read about it for yourself? Go to National Geographic's website ( or just click on the link to follow the news about this awe-inspiring trip to the depths of the ocean.

Update (2 hrs later): quick video highlighting just how far down he is:

and here is a short video of Humboldt squid... not the same as their cousins, the giant squid, but still fascinating (just because I totally <3 geek over this stuff):

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