The crew onboard the Nautilus exploration vessel was doing its job – exploring, mapping and collecting marine life samples from the ocean floor around the Channel Islands off the California coast that are a popular tourist attraction but still largely unexplored. Their work was being live-streamed to scientists on shore. That’s when the camera picked up a mysterious purple orb glowing in the darkness that the biologists had never seen the likes of before. They managed to chase away a curious crab, capture the orb with a vacuum and bring it to the surface for analysis. What could it be?
I’m stumped, I have no idea—I couldn’t even hazard a guess.
“Hazard” is not a word to use when looking at a mysterious glowing purple orb with a strange red center, but that’s what one scientist said as the Nautilus crew panned their camera over it during the latest expedition by the Nautilus Exploration Program, which took place from July 3 to July 21. Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus is a 64-meter (210-foot) research vessel operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, whose Star Terk-ish mission is “To explore areas of the ocean that have never been explored before, seeking out new discoveries.”
As part of its mission “To spread the excitement of ocean exploration and turn everyday viewers into explorers,” the program provides Nautilus Live, a live video feed from wherever the ship and its camera is located. That feed allowed many people to see the capture of the purple orb and hear and read the speculations of the crew and scientists, whose theories ran the gamut from “No idea” to “a new species” to “alien egg” to “new Pokemon.”
Fortunately, the orb was carefully captured (OK, sucked up by a vacuum) and brought to the surface. So, what is it?
Our team preserved the sampled specimen and it will be sent off to a lab for further investigation. We won't know definitively what it is for a while. It could possibly take years for scientists to determine if it's a new species.
Really? By then we could be slaves to our purple orb overlords. The Nautilus Live website later offered a little more speculation on the orb.
After sampling, it began to unfold to reveal two distinct lobes. After consulting with on shore scientists, the team thinks it may be a pleurobranch, a close relation to the nudibranch. Currently none of the known species of California deep-sea pleurobranchs are purple, so this could be a new discovery.
That’s a little more reassuring, although “nudibranch” sounds like a clothing-optional library wing.