On Sunday, May 31st, an unmanned robotic submarine dubbed Nereus dived 6.8 miles into the Pacific Ocean, reaching depths that have been scaled only twice before.
Once there, Nereus spent 10 hours exploring the area, sending back live video images, as well as, scooping up samples of the soil from Challenger Deep, an area that is deeper than the height of Mt Everest.
Scientists hope that these samples will help them analyze the impact of climate change on tectonic plates around this Pacific Ring of Fire - a 25,000-mile area known for its frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
The Nereus, which can be remotely controlled or operate independently, is the third such submarine to reach this Mariana Trench region off the coasts of Japan, Australia, Philippines and Indonesia. Prior to this, the area has been explored by Swiss Oceanographer Jaccques Piccard and US Navy Lieutenant, Don Walsh, who in 1960 became the first and only humans to reach such depths. Between 1995 and 1998, an unmanned Japanese Robot, Kaiko visited the area three times - However, it got lost at sea in 2003.
While scientists are excited that the Nereus could successfully reach these depths, they are even more excited because it used a new technology.
Prior to this, robotic submersibles used steel-reinforced cable made from copper to power the vehicle, however due to the high pressure (1000 times that of the surface of the Earth), that would have not worked in depths like these. Instead, the Nereus used a fiber optic cable, the width of a human hair, made from glass fiber. It was protected with a thin coating of plastic.
The scientists at Woods Hall Oceanographic Institution, who developed the Nereus, believe that the same technology can be used to explore other previously unreachable areas - Something to look forward to while they analyze the samples that Nereus scooped up on its maiden voyage.
sources: engadget.com,newscientist.com, dailymail.co.uk