Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Explorers spot mysterious purple orb on ocean floor

 Update : We're still working on a species ID with our science partners at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, but currently we're thinking the purple orb is a pleurobranch, a nudibranch relative.
Both are types of sea slugs, like this one

From CNET by Amanda Kooser

The research vessel Nautilus is a floating laboratory equipped with cameras that can peer deep down to the ocean floor.
Researchers with the Ocean Exploration Trust posted a video on Monday showing an unusual find.
The Nautilus spied a small bright-purple orb underwater in the Channel Islands off the coast of California.
The main focus for the vehicle's Channel Islands mission is to study deep-sea corals, but the odd sphere attracted the scientists' attention.
The video includes a soundtrack of the researchers making real-time observations as the camera sweeps along.
They call it a "purple blob" and then wonder aloud "What is that?"
The researchers throw out some scientific names as possibilities before deciding to suck it up into a tube for a closer look.
They wonder if it might be an egg sac or an embryo of some sort.
There's a moment of suspense as a crab closes in on the orb and jars it with its leg, but the Nautilus successfully grabs the sphere using a remote-controlled suction tube.

 Channel Islands, offshore California with the GeoGarage platform (NOAA chart)

The Nautilus website offers an update on the oddball discovery: "This unidentified purple orb stumped our scientists onboard. After sampling, it began to unfold to reveal two distinct lobes. This could possibly be a new species of nudibranch."
Nudibranchs are marine mollusks.
They have soft bodies and some of them are quite colorful, appearing in bright shades of orange, blue and pink.
Some have slug-like shapes, while others have small branch-like protuberances.
If you're looking for answers as to exactly what the purple orb is, you'll probably have to wait for some time.
The Nautilus team notes, "It could take several years for scientists to determine if this organism is a new species."

Mysterious purple ocean orb starts to reveal its secrets

Scientists get a closer look at a strange purple sphere found in the ocean and have some ideas about its origins.

Everybody loves a good mystery.
Researchers with the Exploration Vessel Nautilus peered down through a camera at the ocean floor in mid-July and found something very odd there.
A bright-purple sphere glowed in the camera's light. Scientific curiosity kicked in and the researchers suctioned up the strange creature for a closer look. Now they're sharing the latest information on the discovery.
The Nautilus team initially thought the critter might be a nudibranch, a type of soft-bodied marine mollusk.
Current thinking is that it could actually be a close relation called a pleurobranch.
"Pleurobranchs have rhinophores (ear-like structures) in a particular location and a gill under the emantle on the right side, but we are still determining if this is present on this sample. Currently none of the known species of California deep-sea pleurobranchs are purple, so this could be a new discovery," the team said on its website Wednesday.
The orb was found in Arguello Canyon, an underwater canyon west of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Southern California. It was living at a depth of 5,301 feet (1,616 meters).
It's only about 2 inches (5 centimeters) in size. Researchers sent samples of the creature to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology for further identification work.
Closeup photos of the purple orb show a more complex creature than could originally be seen on underwater video.

The purple orb actually has two lobes.
photo : Ocean Exploration Trust
It's not just a single sphere but seems to have a couple of lobes, making it look a bit like a sci-fi alien brain.
There's also a slug-like part of the creature, which fits with the pleurobranch idea.
Pleurobranchs are a type of sea slug.
The Nautilus is funded by the Ocean Exploration Trust, an organization dedicated to studying the scientific wonders of the seafloor.
The Nautilus is a high-tech floating laboratory that aims to "explore areas of the ocean that have never been explored before, seeking out new discoveries in the fields of geology, biology, maritime history, archaeology, and chemistry."
Think of it as the USS Enterprise of ocean vessels.
The Nautilus team isn't rushing to conclusions: "It could possibly take years for scientists to definitively determine whether it's a newly discovered species!"

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