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Science

The Biggest Last Mystery on Earth

¡Viva la Science!

An octopus hides in the rocks in Welker Canyon.
Images courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition.
An octopus hides in the rocks in Welker Canyon.
I have no studies for you this week. No controlled randomized tests. No laboratory bedrooms or solar weather. I have only radiant, extraordinary images and videos in honor of one rather surprising fact: We barely know our own world at all.

A shrimp rests on octocoral in Hydrographer Canyon.
A shrimp rests on octocoral in Hydrographer Canyon.
Ocean covers just about everything on this planet. But we primates stick to land, and 95% of the ocean remains unexplored. It’s just sitting right there—everywhere—and we’ve never seen exactly what’s going on in its depths.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aims to change all that. In July and August of this year, their Okeanos Explorer voyaged near the northeastern US along the Atlantic Continental Slope, where the submerged edge of the North American continent begins to drop off into deeper ocean.

Northeast US Canyons Expedition 2013

The Okeanos Explorer isn’t a research vessel. According to NOAA’s website, its “sole assignment is to systematically explore Earth’s largely unknown ocean.” That’s right: pure exploration. Ain’t it grand? Perhaps most thrillingly, at least for armchair scientists everywhere, the expedition tested a new remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that can go down to 6,000 meters (over 19,000 feet). It’s got six cameras, two of them high-def, and an elaborate lighting system. It can move and zoom and produce unutterably awesome (and thoroughly new) images that the team shared in real time with other scientists and with the public.

Just look at what it found. A world.

Anthomastus   coral in Oceanographer Canyon.
Anthomastus coral in Oceanographer Canyon.

You can explore more of the outlandish beauty for yourself on NOAA’s Photo and Video Log. And you totally should. This video of highlights from the expedition’s second leg is mesmerizingly worth the 20 minutes.

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