The age of Aquarius - Inner space is almost as hard to explore as outer space

31 March 2012

Source: The Economist

JAMES CAMERON knows how to make a splash. Literally. On March 25th the director of “The Terminator”, “Titanic” and “Avatar” plunged into the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench, 500km (300 miles) from Guam. When he reached the bottom, he sent a self-congratulatory tweet, and then tootled about for a couple of hours before taking Deepsea Challenger, his lime-green one-man submarine, back up the 11km to the surface.

This venture certainly scores high in the jaw-dropping department. The only other people to plumb the Challenger Deep—as its name suggests, the most profound point in the ocean—were Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, who did so in 1960, in a vessel called Trieste. The latest dive, however, was not very successful on the scientific front. It brought back no specimens.

This was in sharp contrast to a less publicised mission, to the paltry depth of 2.5km, where the pressure is a mere 250 times that of the atmosphere (the Challenger Deep’s pressure is four times that). This was organised by Ifremer, France’s oceanographic institute. Its three-man craft, Nautile (named after the submarine in Jules Verne’s novel, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”), not only brought back samples, but brought them back alive.

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