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Steely-Eyed Hydronauts of the Mariana

Article #329 • Written by Alan Bellows

▼ Scroll to Continue ▼

On 21 December 1872, the British naval corvette HMS Challenger sailed from Portsmouth, England on an historic endeavor. Although the sophisticated steam-assisted sailing vessel had been originally constructed as a combat ship, her instruments of war had been recently removed to make room for laboratories, dredging equipment, and measuring apparatuses. She and her crew of 243 sailors and scientists set out on a long, meandering circumnavigation of the globe with orders to catalog the ocean's depth, temperature, salinity, currents, and biology at hundreds of sites--an oceanographic effort far more ambitious than any undertaken before it.

For three and a half long, dreary years the crew spent day after day dredging, measuring, and probing the oceans. Although the data they collected was scientifically indispensable, men were driven to madness by the tedium, and some sixty souls ultimately opted to jump ship rather than take yet another depth measurement or temperature reading. One day in 1875, however, as the crew were "sounding" an area near the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific, the sea swallowed an astonishing 4,575 fathoms (about five miles) of measuring line before the sounding weight reached the floor of the ocean. The bedraggled researchers had discovered an undersea valley which would come to be known as the Challenger Deep. Reaching 6.78 miles at its lowest point, it is now known to be the deepest location on the whole of the Earth. The region is of such immense depth that if Mount Everest were to be set on the sea floor at that location, the mighty mountain's peak would still be under more than a mile of water.

Nothing was known of what organisms and formations might lurk at such depths. Many scientists of the day were convinced that such crevasses must be lifeless places considering the immense pressure, relative cold, total lack of sunlight, and presumed absence of oxygen. It would be almost a century before a handful of inventors and explorers finally resolved to go down there and take a look for themselves.

The view at Challenger Deep (artist's rendering)
The view at Challenger Deep (artist's rendering)

In the years that followed the Challenger expedition, subsequent surveys of the region ascertained that the Challenger Deep is part of a much larger formation, the massive Mariana Trench. This 1,580 mile-long trench is the result of the Pacific tectonic plate subducting beneath the Mariana Plate, and the water pressure at its floor is so difficult to comprehend that it is oft described with incomprehensible analogies as "the weight of fifty jumbo jets," "the weight of 1,600 elephants on every centimeter of your body," or "all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light."

The first scientist with the know-how and wherewithal to seriously consider a dive to the bottom of the Mariana was Auguste Piccard, a Swiss professor, physicist, and inventor of some repute. In the early 1930s, he had gained considerable scientific fame by constructing and piloting the world's first manned stratospheric balloon, using a pressurized sphere and helium gasbag of his own design to reach altitudes than no human had previously attained. From over 70,000 feet, he conducted experiments to measure cosmic rays, and made measurements to help prove the theories of his friend Albert Einstein. Piccard's wife--mortified that a middle-aged man would repeatedly subject himself to such risks--insisted that he retire his ballooning career. Much to her surprise, he agreed.

It turned out that he had grander plans afoot. Piccard had realized that a variation of his stratospheric balloon concept could be used as a deep-sea diving apparatus, and he soon set to work constructing his first bathyscaphe vehicle. The contraption consisted of a high-pressure passenger sphere suspended beneath a different kind of gasbag--a steel float chamber filled with gasoline. Gasoline is much lighter than water, causing it to be buoyant; yet it does not compress as air would, which allowed the tank to resist crushing even at extreme depths. The bathyscaphe operated a bit like an underwater zeppelin: operators descended by using pumps to replace small portions of gasoline with seawater, thereby reducing buoyancy. To ascend, operators used controls to let loose some of the onboard iron pellets used as ballast, thereby increasing buoyancy. Small electric propellers provided horizontal navigation.

Auguste Piccard looking through a cone of Lucite (Plexiglass)
Auguste Piccard looking through a cone of Lucite (Plexiglass)

Piccard finished his prototype in 1948, and conducted a number of unmanned test dives as far as 10,000 feet. In 1950 he sold the vehicle to the French Navy in order to begin construction on an improved design, the bathyscaphe Trieste. The new vehicle's thirteen-metric-ton pressure sphere could accommodate two passengers--albeit quite cramped--and included oxygen tanks, rebreathers, and carbon dioxide scrubbers. Its hull was five inches thick, and it had a single, five-centimeter-wide window made from a thick cone of lucite--the only transparent material capable of withstanding the depths this vehicle was intended to reach. After the craft had undertaken a number of successful test dives, the US Navy purchased the Trieste and shipped it to the Marianas to use it in Project Nekton--a series of dives into the ocean's deepest, darkest recesses to gather information regarding sunlight penetration, underwater visibility, transmission of man-made sounds, and marine geological studies of the trench.

On 23 January 1960, two men clambered aboard the Trieste for its attempt to dive into the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench: marine specialist Lieutenant Don Walsh of the US Navy; and oceanographer Jacques Piccard, son of the vehicle's inventor. At 76 years of age, Auguste himself was unable to take part personally. The two hydronauts were expected to be confined in their battery-powered pressure sphere for over eight hours, including almost four hours each for the seven-mile descent and re-ascent. Since no manned or unmanned vessel had ever braved the journey to the Challenger Deep, no one was sure how much life, if any, would be found there. Most scientists were reasonably sure that microorganisms would be found, but some thought it unlikely that vertebrates could withstand such an inhospitable environment.

The Trieste out of water
The Trieste out of water

The men engaged the pumps to fill the ballast tanks with water, and the Trieste slipped beneath the waves to begin its long descent. It only took about sixteen minutes for the explorers to enter the aphotic zone--the depth at which no light from the surface is present--and the world outside the tiny window was left in utter darkness aside from the occasional faint flicker of phosphorescent organisms. From time to time the Trieste would slow and stop as she encountered a deeper, colder thermal layer, and more gasoline had to be pumped from the float chamber in order to continue the descent. The two men periodically reported their progress via a sonar-based phone handset, however there was little to report aside from the rapidly rising readings on the pressure gauges and the falling readings on the thermometers. The warmth inside the uninsulated sphere steadily dwindled.

Partway into their long descent, Walsh and Piccard grew alarmed when they discovered they were no longer able to raise the mother ship on the sonar/hydrophone communication system, even after repeated attempts. The two men were thus left truly isolated from the outside world. Curled up in the cramped, cold, and dimly-lit sphere, the adventurers continued their hours-long downward journey with only one another's voices and the occasional pop or groan from the Trieste's strained hull to punctuate the anxious silence.

At approximately four hours into their descent--several thousand feet above the sea floor--a sharp clang sounded through the pressure sphere and the vehicle shuddered violently. Once their wincing subsided, the men did what they could to inspect the craft and its condition. It seemed that the water pressure at this never-before-encountered depth--six tons per square inch--had cracked the outer pane of the lucite window. For the moment the vehicle itself remained watertight, but the damage was worrisome. The Trieste was outfitted with a few safety systems; for instance, the ballast doors were held closed by electromagnets, so in the event of electrical failure the doors would fall open and drop the ballast, causing the vehicle to rise to the surface. But such systems would be of no help to the men inside if the 1,000 atmospheres of pressure crushed their delicate passenger compartment. Moreover, no other vehicle in existence was capable of reaching such depths, which meant that if her float tank became compromised there was no chance of rescue. Nevertheless, the stalwart scientists opted to press on.

Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard inside the Trieste pressure sphere
Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard inside the Trieste pressure sphere

About three quarters of an hour later, the bathyscaphe Trieste made history as its hull came to a gentle rest on the silty floor of the Challenger Deep abyss. The Trieste and her crew had spent four hours and forty-eight minutes in transit. The bathyscaphe instrumentation indicated a depth of 37,798 feet and external pressure of 1,099 atmospheres--approximately eight tons per square inch. The scientists flicked on the exterior lights to cast light on a patch of earth that had not been illuminated in millions of years, and peered out through the peephole. Through the swirling clouds of agitated silt and sediment the pair could make out a flatfish which had been disturbed by the vehicle's unexpected touchdown. They also spotted some shrimp and jellyfish swimming nearby. These observations proved that the water even at such depths was not stagnant and stationary--there was sufficient ocean current to bring in oxygen for complex life. The mission was not equipped with cameras, however, so the historic exploratory moment was sadly left unphotographed.

Walsh and Piccard attempted to use the sonar/hydrophone handset again, and found that it had inexplicably regained function. They reported their arrival and observations to the mother ship, and although their voices took approximately seven seconds to cross the seven miles of water, they came through quiet yet clear. The hydronauts observed the "diatomaceous ooze" through their tiny, cracked window, shivering in the 45F degree cold and munching chocolate bars to regain lost calories. For the most part, the few organisms they observed were little different from those found in the miles of water above them. Thirty or so minutes later, concerned that the damaged lucite porthole would not withstand the pressure indefinitely, the men dumped two tons of iron ballast and the vehicle slowly began to rise. Three and a quarter uneventful hours later, the bathyscaphe Trieste bobbed to the Pacific surface, having entered the history books with a record that could never be bested. Walsh and Piccard had been to the abyss and back.

Later the same day, the US Department of Navy issued a press release boasting that "the United States now possesses the capability for manned exploration of the sea down to the deepest part of its floor." Project Nekton was a success. Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh were flown to Washington DC to receive decorations from President Eisenhower, and to retell the story of their descent of alternating boredom and terror.

Closeup of the Trieste pressure sphere and ballast-dropping system
Closeup of the Trieste pressure sphere and ballast-dropping system

Grand plans were hatched to do further research with the intrepid bathyscaphe, including bringing back samples of water, soil, and organisms from the abyssal trench. The US Navy, however, was less enthusiastic. The millions of dollars they had invested in the mission had not borne any particularly compelling scientific fruit aside from proving that such a dive was possible. Perhaps most importantly, they had demonstrated America's deep-sea dominance to the pesky Soviets. Moreover, the public's fickle attention was fixed rather firmly on the developing Space Race, leaving little interest in oceanic exploration.

For a few years the Trieste continued her career as a diving vehicle, though never again to such depths as the Challenger Deep. Most of her later missions were pedestrian by comparison, although when the nuclear submarine USS Thresher was lost at sea in 1963 she did participate substantially in the search efforts. Soon thereafter she was retired, and many of her systems were incorporated into other dive vehicles. Much of her outer hull was left intact, however, and it is currently on exhibit at the Navy Museum in Washington, DC. In the 45 years since the Trieste was taken out of service, there has not been another manned dive vehicle capable of reaching the floor of the Mariana.

Even today, less than 5% of the Earth's oceans have been explored by humans according to the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. Of course humanity has not entirely abandoned the exploration of the deep. In 1995 a robotic probe did finally revisit the faraway floor of the Mariana trench, as did another such probe in 2009. Though we must not diminish the achievements of those plucky remote-controlled explorers, it seems a shame that no humans have ever attempted to return. There are some people who say that there is little value in sending humans to harsh places where hardier robotic proxies can go in their stead; but for the indefatigable adventurer, that sort of stick-in-the-mud, stay-at-home complacency is unfathomable.

Update 25 March 2012: Famed Hollywood director James Cameron has since become the third human to visit Earth's deepest chasm. He's like the Pete Conrad of the Mariana.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 21 July 2009. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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118 Comments
casaba
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:20 pm

Wow. So good to see something new!


Lazyowl
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:23 pm

Good good. Great to have you back. :)


jeremyisme
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:25 pm

Hehe, third!! Yay, a new article.


Daemon
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:30 pm

A joyous occassion! Good result! Thanks guys :)


casaba
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:39 pm

Damn. Was just too excited to think before I wrote.
The following popped to mind while reading: Feel immortalized reading such talent.
Anyhow, did now read it. Yet another scientific tidbit that I had never heard of. Interesting indeed.


BigJerk
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:49 pm

Good article. It's good to see some new stuff coming out!


leob
Posted 21 July 2009 at 03:54 pm

Are you sure that Malevich's Black Square is out of copyright?


Silverhill
Posted 21 July 2009 at 04:20 pm

Good to have you back online, Alan! Thanks for continuing to contribute to the...depth...of our understanding. ;-)


Christopher S. Putnam
Posted 21 July 2009 at 04:40 pm

a record that could never be bested
We'll see about that. All I need is a submersible backhoe.


LordFarkward
Posted 21 July 2009 at 05:09 pm

Thanks for the detailed rendering, or I would never have imagined what it would've looked like.


Davy
Posted 21 July 2009 at 05:26 pm

new articles make work more pleasent...


StillAliveAndWell
Posted 21 July 2009 at 05:39 pm

D.I. indeed! Amazing to me that in 1960, this simple technology was enough to take humans into such an extreme environment - "a depth of 37,798 feet and external pressure of 1,099 atmospheres–approximately eight tons per square inch". And disappointing to think we've never been back.
Great story to herald the return of Damn Interesting!


Bile Langschott
Posted 21 July 2009 at 05:40 pm

Yay! You're back! Good to see some new content, Alan.

BTW, there's a small typo near the beginning of the article:

"Reaching 6.78 miles at its lowest point, it is now know to be..."
should be
"Reaching 6.78 miles at its lowest point, it is now known to be..."

Just a little nit-picking to welcome you back properly.


Alan Bellows
Posted 21 July 2009 at 05:49 pm

Bile Langschott said: "Just a little nit-picking to welcome you back properly."

Thanks for pointing that out... fixed!


konspiracy
Posted 21 July 2009 at 05:57 pm

Very good read.... I was wondering though about the radiation levels of the Russian toxic waste sites? Haven't heard anything about that subject in awhile.


Guttersnipe
Posted 21 July 2009 at 06:00 pm

The last week or so has really made me think that the 60s were by far the best decade ever. I hate to say it but computers and robotics have made the human race increasingly lame.


JJExeter
Posted 21 July 2009 at 06:17 pm

DI and a welcome return to glorious form from one of my favourite sites on the internet. I hope the book does well, i'll be sure to pickup a copy from Amazon when i get paid.


ndc123
Posted 21 July 2009 at 06:21 pm

"Piccard’s wife–mortified that a middle-aged man would repeatedly subject himself to such risks–insisted that he retire his ballooning career."

I'm certain we'd have colonies on Mars by now if it weren't for meddling wives.


sssssssspoon
Posted 21 July 2009 at 06:35 pm

Well done, as always! The artist's rendering is perfect--spot on.


uthor
Posted 21 July 2009 at 07:09 pm

Welcome back!


Verily
Posted 21 July 2009 at 08:26 pm

“all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”

Oh, I hate that feeling!


Chris
Posted 21 July 2009 at 08:46 pm

sssssssspoon said: "The artist’s rendering is perfect–spot on."

Are you *sure* of that??!!! It looks like another part of the ocean...... and I wonder what inspired the "artist"? Still, a great article. It is good to have a DI fix......


fitzage
Posted 21 July 2009 at 08:46 pm

Another typo nitpick. In the first paragraph,

"her instruments of war has been recently removed to make room for laboratories"

"has" should be replaced with "had"

Anyway, so glad to have you back!


Alan Bellows
Posted 21 July 2009 at 09:11 pm

fitzage said: “her instruments of war has been recently removed to make room for laboratories”
“has” should be replaced with “had”

Bah... my typing fingers must be rusty. Thanks for pointing that out. Duly repaired.


Sickofids
Posted 21 July 2009 at 09:32 pm

So glad to have a new article.

I had never realized before that the only part that people were in was the sphere at the bottom.


KarmaPolice
Posted 21 July 2009 at 10:01 pm

Damn Interesting!

This may be a well known fact to everyone but me.. but was Star trek Piccard named after this explorer Piccard? It would make sense at any rate, both exploring where no man has been before.


Flammadeao
Posted 21 July 2009 at 10:02 pm

Wowza, thankyou for a fabulous new article!

Given that I had a few decades after this before I was born I've never heard about this - Never knew people had undergone manned missions so far underwater. Very cool!


Obfuscatory Transparency
Posted 21 July 2009 at 10:03 pm

Christopher S. Putnam said: "a record that could never be bested
We’ll see about that. All I need is a submersible backhoe."

Oh that will never work.... First, you'll need a giant corkscrew, 6.79 miles of garden hose, some duct tape, and a toothbrush....


ChrisW75
Posted 21 July 2009 at 10:52 pm

Great to see you guys are back on track, and with another Damn Interesting story to boot.
I see you managed to sneak in an "unfathomable" pun at the end there. You had to work hard for that didn't you?
Nice work!


chudez
Posted 21 July 2009 at 11:55 pm

What? No elaborate conspiracy theories? Wasn't this an obviously staged event in a studio somewhere in the desert?

On an unrelated note: Yay! Damn Interesting lives!


siphons
Posted 22 July 2009 at 12:47 am

A pleasure to read, as always.

(keep pleasuring me)


LJ
Posted 22 July 2009 at 01:27 am

Good to have you back DI!!


seventoes
Posted 22 July 2009 at 01:44 am

Yayayayay new article!

The dude's name was Piccard? There's no way this record can be beat.


rackrussel
Posted 22 July 2009 at 01:51 am

1960- man reaches reaches deepest part of the ocean
1969-man reaches moon
2009- man reaches for tv remote


Tink
Posted 22 July 2009 at 01:55 am

KarmaPolice said: "Damn Interesting!
This may be a well known fact to everyone but me.. but was Star trek Piccard named after this explorer Piccard? It would make sense at any rate, both exploring where no man has been before."

Yes, dear.
Several times on TNG, referances and subtle nods were made to the character Piccards' gggg-grandfathers. Noted in the scripts and books by Gene Roddenberry as bold and brave "early-historic scientific explorers" who contributed much to the theories and studies that made space exploration and subsiquintly the Enterprise, possible.
( BTW, see that gleam in my eye? That's the tears of laughter I'm holding back while doing the 'I told you so song & dance' about DI's conjectured demise). LOL. ; >)

In an off topic side note: Strictly personaly, I think it is very cool that "On 21 December 1872, the British naval corvette HMS Challenger sailed on a historic endeavor". The date of 12/21 is of particular interest to me, not only because of the "predictions" surrounding it but, because, it happens to be my b-day. I honestly think that I choose to be born at this time in history just so I could witness what happens in the next year or three. But that is another topic. Thank you Alan for this great DI story, sooo very good to have you back in the saddle again! Hugs,


Ahuva
Posted 22 July 2009 at 02:20 am

Are these Piccards related to the Bertrand Piccard who was on the first nonstop flight around the world by balloon?


Usman Ahmad
Posted 22 July 2009 at 03:22 am

Dman Interesting! Happy to see you back, Allen!


sir.xerces
Posted 22 July 2009 at 04:16 am

Oh happy days! It's good to know that the best site ever created is better than ever...

it's good to have you back, DI, you have been sorely missed
best wishes for the future from another long-time reader...


Sniglet
Posted 22 July 2009 at 05:18 am

Welcome back! (And upgrade your WordPress, lest they pwn you again!)


KarmaPolice
Posted 22 July 2009 at 07:09 am

Hahaha, thank you Tink.
Very enlightening, and I apoligise for my shameful ignorance :(


Dr. Bivoc
Posted 22 July 2009 at 08:20 am

Good to have you back writing articles! It has been a while. There has been a lot of work done on ocean trenches by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Co and other groups, but most of that has been done on the shallower trenches, mainly because they are easier to get to. Someday, someone will ask a question that can only be answered by going back to the deepest depths, and we will go back.


BeerBaron
Posted 22 July 2009 at 09:02 am

HOORAY! I have something to do at work besides "work" again!!! Delight abounds!


Wüsthof
Posted 22 July 2009 at 09:09 am

Another typo spotted. First paragraph of the article:

"On 21 December 1872, the British naval corvette HMS Challenger sailed from Portsmouth, England on an historic endeavor."

"an" should be "a"

Sorry if I am being grammatically anal.


Enginerd
Posted 22 July 2009 at 09:26 am

What's with all the switching between metric and imperial? Can you just stick to SI?


yogahz
Posted 22 July 2009 at 09:26 am

DI! Great article, thanks for giving these explorers some attention this week of moon memories.


TexanREDNeck
Posted 22 July 2009 at 09:45 am

Well, fellas I reckon this belows guy knews what he wus talkin about. He seems artickulate.


ti83
Posted 22 July 2009 at 10:02 am

Ahh... It feels good to read an interesting, well written article again.

And I never would have thought gasoline--but I looked it up and it does have an extremely low density for being a liquid. Crazy!


sh0cktopus
Posted 22 July 2009 at 12:12 pm

Welcome back, DI!! As long as we're on the grammatical correction tip, in the fifth paragraph "swiss" should be capitalized. I like the new site features, and I'm already used to the new layout - I just hope that the big black space on the left isn't going to sprout pictures of singles in my area. Good to have you back Alan, looking forward to the future of DI!


darren.l
Posted 22 July 2009 at 12:25 pm

At Last!
Thank you for lighting up my rather dim corner of the universe with such fun, lucid writing!
It is such a joy to see you back after such a break.
Damn Interesting DI!

(PS: I think the first pic might have been copyrighted at some point in the past .... hehehehe)


Alan Bellows
Posted 22 July 2009 at 01:10 pm

Wüsthof said: "“an” should be “a”"

Actually it's considered correct either way, though in the US plain old "a" is indeed more common (about 70% of US writers use "a"). I prefer "an" because I don't pronounce "historic" with a hard H like "hard," rather with a soft H like "honest".

sh0cktopus said: "As long as we’re on the grammatical correction tip, in the fifth paragraph “swiss” should be capitalized."

D'oh. Resolved (with apologies to Switzerland).


kissaki
Posted 22 July 2009 at 01:56 pm

Fascinating article. I have been to Guam (which happens to be one of the Mariana islands) and was amazed at all the steep, tall cliffs in the waters off shore. It was amazing geology, especially to a Mid-Western U.S. boy.


VR_Don
Posted 22 July 2009 at 02:02 pm

As always, that was DI.


Silverhill
Posted 22 July 2009 at 03:52 pm

Ahuva said: "Are these Piccards related to the Bertrand Piccard who was on the first nonstop flight around the world by balloon?"
Indeed so. The Wikipedia article on Bertrand Piccard says, in part,
"Dr. Bertrand Piccard (born 1 March 1958) is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist.
He was born in Lausanne, Vaud canton. His grandfather Auguste Piccard and father Jacques Piccard were noted balloonists and inventors."


Mostly Harmless
Posted 22 July 2009 at 04:34 pm

It's brilliant to have you back. Great article. Actually, the whole story reminds me of an H.G. Wells short story, entitled "In the Abyss", written 64 years earlier. Well worth a read: http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction/abyss/01.html


Virgil Syonid
Posted 22 July 2009 at 04:42 pm

Bathyspheres featured in some of Jules Verne's writings. He even concerned himself with the subtler details of CO2 and oxygen exchange. Not sure how the scaphe derives from the sphere. I thought a 'scaphe' was a sundial.

Still, between the opening suicide tally and the classic summary, "... to retell the story of their descent of alternating boredom and terror.", indeed DI.


groover000
Posted 22 July 2009 at 04:53 pm

Fourth paragraph, first sentence: "of" repeated. "...is part of of a much..."

I knew checking the site every week would one day lead to a tasty reward. Yummy.


Davy
Posted 22 July 2009 at 05:12 pm

so, i made a profile and i can read my own...how do i read others? is it possible? i'm at work using an outdated internet explorer so if the answer is simple and i'm not seeing that, please understand.


Ins0mniac
Posted 22 July 2009 at 05:30 pm

KarmaPolice said: "Damn Interesting!

This may be a well known fact to everyone but me.. but was Star trek Piccard named after this explorer Piccard? It would make sense at any rate, both exploring where no man has been before."

I was wondering the same thing as I read it. Wouldn't be at all surprised if it was a little salute from the writers of the show.


Chory
Posted 22 July 2009 at 05:54 pm

Very interesting, as expected! Welcome back Alan! I want a copy of the book as well, once I have some money, hah. I had no idea they had seen jellyfish that far down! I figured they would be far too fragile; as a biology major I would love to see another excursion - manned or not - to collect samples and more data! And I wonder what adaptations these animals have in regards to the earthquakes I suspect would be frequent and severe at the bottom on the Deep... Hey, I bet if they looked they could find a Balrog or something scary like that, lol.


Chory
Posted 22 July 2009 at 07:16 pm

Also, the conical shape of the Plexiglas window is ingenious!


bone
Posted 22 July 2009 at 08:39 pm

So am I the first to note the parallels and thematic ties between DI's triumphant return and the topic of the first new story? The website's return to light (or at least electrons) from the murky and mysterious darkness of the unknown... it's a completely appropriate first story. Well done!


Mirage_GSM
Posted 23 July 2009 at 12:58 am

Tink said: "Several times on TNG, referances and subtle nods were made to the character Piccards’ gggg-grandfathers. Noted in the scripts and books by Gene Roddenberry as bold and brave “early-historic scientific explorers” who contributed much to the theories and studies that made space exploration and subsiquintly the Enterprise, possible.

Note however that the family seems to have dropped one "C" from their name somewhere down the intervening 400 years.
In an off topic side note: Strictly personaly, I think it is very cool that “On 21 December 1872, the British naval corvette HMS Challenger sailed on a historic endeavor”. The date of 12/21 is of particular interest to me, not only because of the “predictions” surrounding it but, because, it happens to be my b-day."

DEC21st is also my grandmother's birthday, however I never heard about any predictions related to that date. Could you please enlighten me?


NewEvolution
Posted 23 July 2009 at 08:20 am

DEC21st is also my grandmother’s birthday, however I never heard about any predictions related to that date. Could you please enlighten me?"

It's the day the Mayan calendar resets, which some people have taken to thinking signals the end of the world. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_calendar#Long_Count


Alan Bellows
Posted 23 July 2009 at 09:57 am

groover000 said: "Fourth paragraph, first sentence: “of” repeated. “…is part of of a much…”"

My typographical error rate in this article is unusually high. Thanks for pointing that out... resolution is at hand.


Cry-baby
Posted 23 July 2009 at 12:34 pm

ha-ha. Well Alan, nothing that can't be cured by a regularly published series of new stories to amaze, amuse & inform, I'm sure.

Welcome back indeed & gratz on the book which I will be on the lookout for.


Redneck Beauty
Posted 23 July 2009 at 01:51 pm

Welcome back Alan! We missed you.... and as always DI!


Silverhill
Posted 23 July 2009 at 02:55 pm

Virgil Syonid said: "Not sure how the scaphe derives from the sphere. I thought a ’scaphe’ was a sundial."
Combining the Random House Dictionary entries for 'bathyscaphe' and 'bathy-':
"Origin: 1947; French, from Greek bathýs deep + Greek skáphos ship; coined by Auguste Piccard


LordFarkward
Posted 23 July 2009 at 06:39 pm

Mostly Harmless said: "It’s brilliant to have you back. Great article. Actually, the whole story reminds me of an H.G. Wells short story, entitled “In the Abyss”, written 64 years earlier. Well worth a read: http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction/abyss/01.html"

That's one very interesting read too. Thanks for the link!


Ron
Posted 23 July 2009 at 06:57 pm

This is terrible, its been 2 whole days without new content. I remember the good old days when you had new content every day, this site has gone way down hill.


Mostly Harmless
Posted 23 July 2009 at 08:30 pm

LordFarkward said: "Mostly Harmless said: “It’s brilliant to have you back. Great article. Actually, the whole story reminds me of an H.G. Wells short story, entitled “In the Abyss”, written 64 years earlier. Well worth a read: http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction/abyss/01.html“
That’s one very interesting read too. Thanks for the link!"

You're welcome. It is amazing how little we know about life in the deep. There really could be anything down there!


KB1DMR
Posted 23 July 2009 at 09:23 pm

Well, Im new here to DI and find things really fascinating.TNX DI. (July 24,2009)


Ahuva
Posted 24 July 2009 at 02:47 am

Thanks for the information, Silverhill. Adventurous family those Piccards, almost as amazing as those Bellows.


GodlikeParagon
Posted 24 July 2009 at 03:40 am

Finally signed up, been reading for quite some time, great to see Damn Interesting back!
Very nice article, thanks!


katcorner
Posted 24 July 2009 at 06:42 am

Good to see a new article, very good to see comments from long time users. I have read all the old articles and probably all the comments. I find most of them as "dammed interesting" as the articles.


DrQuincy
Posted 24 July 2009 at 06:44 am

Glad to see you back! Thank you for the Hitchhiker's reference.


Edward Flannery
Posted 24 July 2009 at 09:11 am

Hey all, i came across this site as it was in the midst of its re-vamping if you will. I am also NOT a comment poster but have recently come to benefit greatly from the views/opinions of strangers.
I want to say this site delivers information and not opinions, something that is very rarely seen. I personally believe that whomever posts these articles has a great head on their shoulders, and should consider journalism (not to say this isnt, only commenting on the lack of good journalists), especially now that our planet is less one media icon that delivered strictly information, not opinions. Good, no GREAT on this site, ill be buying your book/donating and will continue to read. If my dream of owning a non-bias information driven news corporation ever comes to fruitition i know where to go looking for editors. Pleasure to Read (ive read them all) and my childish like enjoyment to see your return is my Congratulations to you!!!!


bubaks
Posted 24 July 2009 at 10:15 am

Damn. The MPH bookshop said it takes two months two order the book. Borders is out of stock. :( :( :(
I have to wait...


Ard Ri
Posted 24 July 2009 at 10:59 am

Damn Good to have you back!!!


etonalife
Posted 24 July 2009 at 06:14 pm

oooh! that was so nice to read. it feels like it's been years! made my day.


Vrolock
Posted 24 July 2009 at 09:56 pm

I greatly enjoyed the new article and the "Artist's Rendering" of the challenger view


dismalscience
Posted 24 July 2009 at 10:08 pm

I'll be buying the book tomorrow. Welcome back, just when I took you guys off bookmarked status! Also almost hit the refresh button on the artist rendered picture you jokesters. I watched a video of some pretty impressive deep sea creatures that look straight out of science fiction. Not sure how far down they reside, but shrimp and jelly fish? Simply DI!


mohdowais
Posted 25 July 2009 at 05:55 am

Ahoy Alan and welcome back! And back with a bang you are, there could hardly be a more befitting way to return...what an awesome article on a truly fascinating topic. I had learnt about the trench in school and had never wondered if anyone had descended into it...I suppose it was just too crazy to even contemplate. The fact that it was actually done 15 years before I was born is simply astounding! Thanks for the great read, Alan, and looking forward to lots more.


jarvisloop
Posted 25 July 2009 at 06:38 am

Mr. Bellows:

Punctuation and sentence structure question.

You wrote this: "The two men periodically reported their progress via a sonar-based phone handset, however there was little to report aside from the rapidly rising readings on the pressure gauges and the falling readings on the thermometers."

I was taught that it should be this: "The two men periodically reported their progress via a sonar-based phone handset; however, there was little to report aside from the rapidly rising readings on the pressure gauges and the falling readings on the thermometers."

The reasoning is that "The two men periodically reported their progress via a sonar-based phone handset" is an independent clause as is "there was little to report aside from the rapidly rising readings on the pressure gauges and the falling readings on the thermometers." Because "however" is a transition (adverbial connector) and neither a coordinating nor a subordinating conjunction, a semicolon must be used in front of "however" instead of a comma. With a comma, the sentence becomes a comma splice, which some persons call a run-on sentence.

However, I have seen more and more instances of the punctuation that you used, and I am well aware that rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling are always years behind the speakers and writers of the language. (For example, most people no longer write "to-morrow.") What's your opinion, based on what you have seen in various publications? Is your sentence with a comma instead of a semicolon also now considered to be standard English?

Thanks.

Jarvis Loop


Tink
Posted 25 July 2009 at 01:06 pm

KarmaPolice said: "Hahaha, thank you Tink.Very enlightening, and I apoligise for my shameful ignorance :("

Your more than welcome. And, please darlin' don't apologise, all my teasing is just good fun here. hugs2u.

Mirage_GSM said: "DEC21st is also my grandmother’s birthday, however I never heard about any predictions related to that date. Could you please enlighten me?"

As NewEvolution said, it is most well known to be the last date in the mayan calender, but many others have suggested that it is the end of the world [IT]as we know it[/IT]. Some think it will be a spiritual change, others predict a shift in time. Still others concider it a warning about the damage we humans are causing the earth; suggesting everything from global warming , plagues and pestilance, Gods wrath, a splitting of the tectonic plates, to nuclear disaster as the ultimate end of it all.
Personaly, simple curiosity has my eyes opened, and I continue to watch and listen , while very aware that Y2K was also only one of thousands of failed predictions made the past millinia. Hey if your curious too, just google 12/21/2010 (some say 12/21/2012) and you will find thousands of sites devoted to the many hints and allegations of it all. Hugs.


Marc Boyd
Posted 25 July 2009 at 02:11 pm

B&N has the book in stock. I am getting ready to dive in. Interesting cover art.

Glad you guys are back. I put comments on RSS long ago, and saw the new entry immediately.


Silverhill
Posted 26 July 2009 at 05:49 am

Tink said: "I continue to watch and listen , while very aware that Y2K was also only one of thousands of failed predictions made the past millinia."
But please bear in mind that a great deal of the otherwise expectable Y2K problems were averted because of the great efforts of large numbers of programmers. Many of them were hired back out of retirement, and many others were given quick training, to fix lots and lots (and lots) of old code before the deadline. Thanks to their underreported and largely invisible efforts, the problem was made so small that a lot of the public got the erroneous notion that the problem had never been nearly as big and worrisome as had been claimed.


Mullin
Posted 26 July 2009 at 06:16 am

I think the point re: Y2K is that there was never any doubt that the steps taken to fix the potential problems would be successful. If it went unchecked then chaos certainly could have ensued, but it was never going to happen. The media jumped on it and sold the fear (as they do) leading everyone to think it was a real threat (ie. that the problems couldn't be fixed) when in reality it was huge, pain in the backside, glitch... that would be fixed by a lot of tedious work.
Much the same as the Mayan doomsday calendar (for want of a better term)... sounds to me like the calendar ends in 2012 (like they were going to map it out forever, had to stop some time) and the conclusion has been drawn that they have predicted the end of the world. I must admit, compared to most readers here I am totally green on the specifics of the Mayan calendar topic, but I am commenting more on the propensity for the media (and people in general) to gravitate toward the sensational side of situations in the face of logic and common sense.


bubaks
Posted 26 July 2009 at 09:38 am

It would be interesting to read an article here on DI regarding the Y2K bug elucidating the measures that were taken to avoid the fiasco.


Keith Henson
Posted 26 July 2009 at 05:03 pm

Ok everyone, never posted before but I feel an imperative which must be answered. Most of my imperatives are far too boring to enumerate (gastro-intestinal duress, bunions, claw-hand and so forth...) but a few notables do follow:

1) in 88 posts not one soul has given the slightest nod of proper deference to our Lord Alan for dredging up a movie quote memory that is the exquisite cerebral brain-whack of one Egan Spangler... what! what!
2) I, admittedly, am a lurker - and a most heinous one at that, sub-events here:
a) Friend refers to DI some time ago.
b) Reads current article (Gimli Glider as I recall...) - interested...
c) Reads prior article, another, another - hopelessly hooked...
d) Forsakes work, eating, bathing (GI distress explained) to read current article (if present), priors if not...
e) Begins reading comments and realizes they're damn near as good as the articles... obsession sets in...
f) Current articles stop on Total Perspective Vortex - head in sand nighmares, toes curl (Bunions - sorted), panic...
g) Begins pilgrimage to article one... No work, no reality.. wife says "piss off" and trots out... (claw-hand - sorted)
h) Hits article one... wets pants. void ahead... begin descent into madness.
i) Hit site every day - nothing. Read every comment on the last article and feel like bottom feeder scrounging on any byte from DI I can get. Not alone, comment count hits one billion...
j) On rooftop months later preparing to jump - alert comes in RSS for new content and drop to my knees crying in reverent salvation...
j) Read "Afoot at DI" article over and over. Comments too. Tangential reference prompts re-reading of A.C.D. series again.
k) Hydronauts article, read, re-read. Wiki lookup, Comments. Realise with a start that (per Book of Swords) the gods are there only when you believe. Decide to become a proper acolyte and post. Here we are then, sorted.

So - to make a short story long - please don't forsake us again brothers Bellows! - Gods of all that is interesting! Creators of Bunions! Duressers of the gastro-intestinal! Clawers of Hands..! I am prepared to sacrifice a chicken, goat, whatever for your continued conquerings of the mundane and banishings of productivity. I will stand on the mock airfields and pray for your cargos of fascination...

I promise I will comment. I will be a good servant. I will respond to all articles even though I feebly grasp their content, and while mentally humiliating reply to posts from vaunted intellects such as Radiaton, silverhill, HiEv, rev.Felix and others - whose wisdom likens mine to the level of fecal bacteria.

I promise, brothers Bellows, I will exist.

Just, for the love of god, don't leave again - and welcome back! Oh, dear god of all sacred, welcome back!


Mirage_GSM
Posted 27 July 2009 at 01:32 am

Mullin said: "I think the point re: Y2K is that there was never any doubt that the steps taken to fix the potential problems would be successful. If it went unchecked then chaos certainly could have ensued..."

I was part of my company's Y2K project team (not as a programmer though). If we had done nothing there would have been some minor glitches, like the outdoor lighting malfunctioning or cars being stuck in the car park, but nothing serious.
As it was the only glitch we missed was a Y2K alarm clock our team got as a gift along with several other company's project teams. I think not a single one thought to check theirs ;-)


jarvisloop
Posted 27 July 2009 at 02:52 am

Keith:

Welcome to the DI compulsion. Now, please click "Shop," and buy the book. Let's keep this site alive.

Here's a truth that Web users can no longer ignore: Free content eventually becomes no content and a dead link.


vixay
Posted 27 July 2009 at 03:12 am

Congratulations on another well written article!


Alan Bellows
Posted 27 July 2009 at 12:58 pm

jarvisloop said: "Because “however” is a transition (adverbial connector) and neither a coordinating nor a subordinating conjunction, a semicolon must be used in front of “however” instead of a comma. With a comma, the sentence becomes a comma splice, which some persons call a run-on sentence."

You are indeed technically correct, but I admit I am not a strict observer of the rules. Of course I do my best to adhere to those rules that enhance readability. But occasionally I start sentences (or even paragraphs) with conjunctions, which is frowned upon in grammar circles. My sentences have also been seen with trailing prepositions, despite the fact that a preposition is a bad word to end a sentence with. I am untroubled by such nuances...I feel that a writer's energy is better spent transmitting information than picking nits for the self-appointed grammar police (not that I'm putting you in that category).

But that's just me.


Alan Bellows
Posted 27 July 2009 at 01:13 pm

Keith Henson said: "Just, for the love of god, don’t leave again – and welcome back! Oh, dear god of all sacred, welcome back!"

Thanks for the over-generous but much-appreciated serving of compliments. I certainly hope that the circumstances which led to our extended hiatus do not materialize again.


fapri
Posted 27 July 2009 at 03:10 pm

Alan Bellows said: "jarvisloop said: “Because “however” is a transition (adverbial connector) and neither a coordinating nor a subordinating conjunction, a semicolon must be used in front of “however” instead of a comma. With a comma, the sentence becomes a comma splice, which some persons call a run-on sentence.”

You are indeed technically correct, but I admit I am not a strict observer of the rules. Of course I do my best to adhere to those rules that enhance readability. But occasionally I start sentences (or even paragraphs) with conjunctions, which is frowned upon in grammar circles. My sentences have also been seen with trailing prepositions, despite the fact that a preposition is a bad word to end a sentence with. I am untroubled by such nuances…I feel that a writer’s energy is better spent transmitting information than picking nits for the self-appointed grammar police (not that I’m putting you in that category).
But that’s just me."

At some point, you ought to do an article about the rise and fall of the grammar police. It would be interesting to see the evolution considering this site has been very much a part of that movement. I know I certainly wouldn't leave a comment without proper punctuations or capitalizations at the very least.

Good to see this part of the internet is in service again, welcome back!


tday
Posted 27 July 2009 at 03:30 pm

I for one would have dumped ballast at the first sign of a cracked window. I dont know how they had the nerve to sit there for 3 quarters of an hour longer and decend even more thousands of feet. Especially knowing it would take four hours to reach the surface.


Keith Henson
Posted 27 July 2009 at 05:33 pm

tday said: "I for one would have dumped ballast at the first sign of a cracked window. I dont know how they had the nerve to sit there for 3 quarters of an hour longer and decend even more thousands of feet. Especially knowing it would take four hours to reach the surface."

Bingo! You hit on the one thought I couldn't get past... Their craft suffered an obvious malfunction in an environment where, upon complete failure, death would come in microseconds - and yet they persevered. There must be a special gene in the likes of some folk (I will offer Joseph Kittinger as another) that deals with fear differently than the rest of us. J.K. Nearly died on a 70k foot jump and responded how? Do one at 102k of course... for Walsh and Piccard the remaining descent, ascent and faffing about on the bottom must have been done with sphincter pressures rivaling what was outside.

I don't fancy myself a coward by any means but - come on! There's a limit here! When this happened:

" a sharp clang sounded through the pressure sphere and the vehicle shuddered violently"
it's bloody over and time to blow ballast, among other matter...

...and the ascent would have sported an olfactory component conspicuously absent during the descent.


Davy
Posted 27 July 2009 at 05:56 pm

Keith Henson said:
"…and the ascent would have sported an olfactory component conspicuously absent during the descent."

Hahaha


Keith Henson
Posted 27 July 2009 at 06:14 pm

jarvisloop said: "Keith:
Welcome to the DI compulsion. Now, please click “Shop,” and buy the book. Let’s keep this site alive.
Here’s a truth that Web users can no longer ignore: Free content eventually becomes no content and a dead link."

Noted and done. The book is on its way from Amazon and I have been pestering many other lurkers I know to buy the book as well.

Perhaps I should buy five copies for my mother...


jarvisloop
Posted 27 July 2009 at 06:21 pm

Alan Bellows said: "jarvisloop said: “Because “however” is a transition (adverbial connector) and neither a coordinating nor a subordinating conjunction, a semicolon must be used in front of “however” instead of a comma. With a comma, the sentence becomes a comma splice, which some persons call a run-on sentence.”
You are indeed technically correct, but I admit I am not a strict observer of the rules. Of course I do my best to adhere to those rules that enhance readability. But occasionally I start sentences (or even paragraphs) with conjunctions, which is frowned upon in grammar circles. My sentences have also been seen with trailing prepositions, despite the fact that a preposition is a bad word to end a sentence with. I am untroubled by such nuances…I feel that a writer’s energy is better spent transmitting information than picking nits for the self-appointed grammar police (not that I’m putting you in that category).
But that’s just me."

Mr. Bellows:

Thank Zeus that I have finally found a professional writer who agrees with me. I have taught English literature and composition both on the college and high school levels for 33 years, and I have had to fight pedants everywhere. My main argument has always been that the writer's main job is to make the reader's job as easy as possible.

Thanks for the corroboration and for taking the time to write.

And, now, to end with a quote from Sir Churchill, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put."

Mr. Bellows, arm your hands, and let's prepare to battle pedants and pedagogues.

Jarvis Loop


jarvisloop
Posted 27 July 2009 at 06:28 pm

Keith Henson said: "jarvisloop said: “Keith:
Welcome to the DI compulsion. Now, please click “Shop,” and buy the book. Let’s keep this site alive.
Here’s a truth that Web users can no longer ignore: Free content eventually becomes no content and a dead link.”
Noted and done. The book is on its way from Amazon and I have been pestering many other lurkers I know to buy the book as well.
Perhaps I should buy five copies for my mother…"

Keith:

A few minutes ago, I posted a note to thing1 in "Something's Afoot at Damn Interesting," telling her that she had just made my day. Now that I have read your post, I am truly set for the whole week.

Thanks!

Jarvis Loop


jarvisloop
Posted 27 July 2009 at 06:33 pm

Mr. Bellows:

Final comment for the evening.

This article is the best that I have ever read here at DI, and all of the articles are incredible. Sure, I have a bit of a phobia about deep water, but, even if I did not, this article would have given it to me.

I think that I speak for everyone here when I say that the reason Damn Interesting is damn interesting is because the writing is damn good and far better than I could ever do.

Jarvis Loop

PS: And that's coming from someone who has had his share of writing published in various places. Not for money, unfortunately. Praised but not paid. What's the good in that?


Keith Henson
Posted 27 July 2009 at 06:46 pm

Thanks for the over-generous but much-appreciated serving of compliments. I certainly hope that the circumstances which led to our extended hiatus do not materialize again."

Never really thought about it until your reply, Mr. Bellows, but considering the amount of effort you, Jason and others have put forth here, what with the site, book and all - you must have had a damn good reason for your hiatus - perhaps even a painful one.

That thought the predicate - the schtick dealt in comments heretofore was potentially callous and unfair. While I never posted my thoughts, I must admit my seven stages of DI grief did, indeed, include anger and agreement with those who vented - I took no higher road.

Concerning the trials of the past months: if condolences are in order, you have mine.

Whatever the case, "thanks" and appreciation *are* in order and you have those as well. 'nuff said.


Milkman76
Posted 27 July 2009 at 07:38 pm

Really glad DI is BACK!


agentanaranjado
Posted 28 July 2009 at 04:29 pm

It is great to have you back!

Damn interesting, as always.


Tim_2_some
Posted 30 July 2009 at 01:09 am

I'm loving the Ghostbusters homage,
“all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.”
Just don't cross the proton streams!! Excellent


scolopendra6
Posted 06 August 2009 at 12:40 am

I wish "adventurer" was still a valid job title. I suppose I will just settle for "engineer." Adventurer would be a lot more fun though.


arturo
Posted 12 August 2009 at 09:50 am

The article states the trench is 6.78 miles deep at its lowest point, the deepest on the whole of the earth, but later on I notice that the "bathyscaphe instrumentation indicated a depth of 37,798 feet". This calculates to 7.16 miles. So were the instruments off or did the intrepid explorers break the 7-mile barrier?


Silverhill
Posted 12 August 2009 at 02:43 pm

According to the Wikipedia article, "On 24 March 1995, the Japanese robotic deep-sea probe Kaikō broke the depth record for unmanned probes when it reached close to the surveyed bottom of the Challenger Deep. ... Its recorded depth of 35,797 ft (10,911 m) for the Challenger Deep is believed to be the most accurate measurement taken yet."


Ava
Posted 19 August 2009 at 01:42 pm

That had me on edge. I had butterflies in my stomach for the rest of the article after I read “all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.” Creepy stuff.


WillyP
Posted 23 August 2009 at 12:19 pm

Wow... 6.78 miles... Wouldn't want to fall overboard in that part of the ocean!


rev.felix
Posted 11 September 2009 at 05:05 pm

I don't think their sonarphone stopped working, there was just no one to answer it because everyone up top was taking a break for a piece of pie.


cythrawl
Posted 08 January 2010 at 03:38 pm

Hey, Alan Bellows, welcome back! I need to get your book.


theinquisition
Posted 05 May 2010 at 06:50 am

The article is amazing. Very thoroughly researched. Just curious - how long do you spend developing pieces?


Jason Bellows
Posted 05 May 2010 at 10:54 am

theinquisition said: "The article is amazing. Very thoroughly researched. Just curious – how long do you spend developing pieces?"

I generally think of an idea, research it for a week or two, and spend 6 hours or so writing it up.


ChiefOf10
Posted 26 July 2010 at 11:23 pm

I only just stumbled across this site so I’ve been getting myself ‘immersed’ in the articles going through them one by one –they really are DI! Keep up the good work!

I thought Professor Auguste Piccard looked somewhat familiar so I googled him and found that the Professor Calculus character from the Tin Tin books was based on him –Did anyone else find that DI? Well, I thought it was :/


preacher jonson
Posted 13 July 2011 at 10:11 am

"they had demonstrated America’s deep-sea dominance to the pesky Soviets"
And once again they used another country's technology a repeat of the Bel X-1 with mostly British technology


Josh
Posted 23 January 2013 at 06:11 pm

Exploring the deepest point on the planet? Leave it to someone named Pic(c)ard to be the first to make it so.


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