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NASA tested drone submarine to hunt for marine life and perhaps foreigners

Diving to the sea bottom is undoubtedly more difficult than shooting into space.

Hundreds of astronauts have left the earth, but you can count the people who have visited the very bottom of the sea on one side: James Cameron, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh.

Because of that, we do not know much about what is happening in the deepest parts of the sea, especially in the sacred named hadal zone, which is 6,000 to 11,000 meters (3.7-6.8 miles) below the surface. Although 45% of the world's oceans exist in that zone, that part of the planet has been a mystery to us earthlings.

So far.

Researchers from NASA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have raised up to a $ 1

.2 million privately funded effort to investigate, design and build a new robot to explore the Hadalson. The group appropriately named the new drone Orpheus, after the mythical Greek hero who lazy to the depths of hell and serenade Hades, the king of the underworld. In the same way, scientists hope that this Orpheus will one day find new deep-sea marine animals and snap photographs of deep-sea life.

"They are almost completely unexplored and it is a very, very involuntary exploration environment." NASA robot engineer John Leichty, who helped design and build Orpheus drone, told Business Insider. "But there are many creatures living there."

Diving the deep is hard. Researchers at the WHOI believed their Nereus deep-sea car could come there in 2014, but the remote-controlled machine was lost about six miles below the sea after just six weeks of exploration. So for this project, engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (like Leichty) lend a hand.

Their goal is to create a drone immersion so small and so light that one day they will be able to shoot it in space to explore other oceans. Orpheus is the first step in that direction.

Read more : The solar system has at least 8 giant secret oceans where alien life can exist – here is where and how great they are

"It's the big, big, big store, big, big, big, best grandmother from the vehicle that can come to Europe, "WHOI biologist Tim Shank, who heads Hadex or hadal zone exploration mission, told Business Insider.

Ocean engineer Molly Curran stretches her hands as she waits for Orpheus to return to the surface.
Ivan Agerton for OceanX / Bloomberg Philanthropies

An initial test of drone submarine

Orpheus drone is about the size of a backyard grill and weighs 600 pounds.

The team completed the first unhardened, autonomous test of the new drone in September, just outside Cape Cod Bay. The robot went 176 meters (about 577 feet) below the surface, which is still far above the secret zone, so it is clear that Orpheus is not ready for prime time yet.

"There is a lot of work we need to do to improve autonomy in order to carry out more complex missions," Leichty said. It's especially true when it comes to navigating underwater and making sure "doesn't run into things," he added.

Orpheus is equipped with four Go-Pro-like (flashing) cameras, both to help the vehicle navigate on its own and to capture the landscape.

"I think a good analogy is perhaps how with your phone you can take a panoramic picture," Leichty said. "We are trying to do the same, but at the bottom of the sea."

OceanX / Bloomberg Philanthropies, one of the founders of the Orpheus project, released a new video of the search on Wednesday:

Under the 577-foot deep-test dive, Leichty said, orpheus cameras flashed some "crab-like" and " tubular "creatures. The WHOI team also combined 40 pictures of the seabed, which Orpheus captured to create a 3-D mosaic.

Communications from the earth's surface can take longer to reach the seabed than the moon. So the Orpheus drone is completely independent – when it decides to get up to the air, it releases a few steel weights that fall to the seabed, which allows the machine to float to the surface. Ideally, drone will do this when it finishes its mission or if it goes out.

Orpheus drone is completely autonomous. It determines when to revive.
Julian Race for OceanX / Bloomberg Philanthropies

"Hopefully, it runs and goes, does its mission and then returns to the surface and tells you where to get it," leichty said.

If something goes wrong, the weight of the vehicle is designed to rust within about a day, which would force the orange explorer back to the surface.

Searching for new life forms on Earth and in space

In the peak area where Orpheus will travel one day, if everything goes for planning, the pressure can reach 16,000 pounds per day. Inches (psi), which is more than a thousand times the sea level pressure (14.7 psi).

It's not a place that NASA tends to care much about in the past – "NASA doesn't really do ocean research," says Leichty – but the pressure at the bottom of Earth's oceans seems to be remarkably similar to the pressure on Jupiter & # 39; 39; tantalizingly watery moon, Europe.

"The sea of ​​Europe – it is believed to be one of the most likely places for life to exist right now, not just in the past," said Leichty.

It makes the Jovian moon a mature place to seek foreigners.

An illustration of salt sea water spraying from Jupiter's moon Europe.

But before a mission to Europe ever becomes possible, scientists must learn to recognize and observe life-forms that can thrive on such pressure so that scientists do not run without ignoring an unknown sign of life that is right in front of their eyes. The ability to recognize living creatures at the bottom of the sea – the other world-renowned animals that thrive in long, narrow graves – is one of Shank's greatest concerns.

"How did the animals come to be?" Shank wonders. "Started life in trenches and then migrate out of trenches? Or did it walk into the trenches and was caught there and remained there?"

Deep Sea Detector

Many of the spots on Earth that the Orpheus team wants the drone to explore lie close to the planet's subduction zones, where areas of the seabed are pushed under continental crust and lava flows. Underwater volcanoes are far more common than outbreaks on land, and sizzling underwater valves germinate in the areas where lava churns create an environment where life can thrive. Scientists did not realize that these vapors even existed until 1977.

Shank is convinced that the team will find never-before-seen microbes in areas near these deep-sea valves. It can lead to the development of new antibiotics and other drugs as well as new ways of thinking about the necessary conditions for life.

Orpheus is designed to be a kind of ocean-floor detective in such areas; It is equipped with sensors to detect methane, hydrogen sulfide and helium, which are all promising ingredients for life.

"Animals like tube worms and clams and clams and shrimps and snails love the hydrogen sulfide," Shank said.

Unlike other underwater vessels, Orpheus is designed to sit right on the seabed and sniff out these creatures.

"Then it will pick up the seabed and, like a grasshopper, land again somewhere else," said Shank.

Orpheus was launched from OceanX's 56 meter long Alucia research ship.
Ivan Agerton for OceanX / Bloomberg Philanthropies

Finally, the plan is for Orpheus to be associated with a fleet of other barbeque drones. Shank mentioned this as an "armada" and said that the squad of approx. 20 drones would sniff around the world's deepest corners for the hydrogen sulphide of the mill, then zero in on them, land and snatch photos.

"These areas will be the next thing that will change the way we think about how life can exist on earth – or any other planetary body," he said.

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