Japanese Submersible to Search for the Origin of Life

The Japanese submersible Shinkai 6500 will be undertaking a yearlong journey around the world, exploring waters that can reach 500 degrees Celsius in temperature. Its mission: to search for clues that may give a deeper understanding into the origins of life on Earth.

The vehicle will leave it’s support ship at the Yokosuka port in Kanagawa Prefecture on Jan. 5. It will be studying deep-sea armored snails in the Indian Ocean until March before making a stopover at Cape Town in South Africa. It will then conduct the first manned submersible survey off the coast of Brazil until May as Japanese researchers look for unique marine biotic communities thriving on the methane gas geysers in that region. It will then head off to the Caribbean Sea to search for life along the world’s deepest undersea volcanic vents before returning to Japan via the Panama Canal in August to replace its batteries. It will then explore Tonga Trench at 10,850 meters deep and will finally return home in late November.

The Shinkai 6500, so named because of its ability to dive to depths of 6,500 meters, was built in 1989 and is owned and operated by the government-run Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). This voyage, called Quelle2013, will be its second longest, with the first being a trip through the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in 1998 which lasted about seven months. JAMSTEC says the trip will cost around 1.9 billion yen ($21.7 million U.S.) and will try to understand the origin of life by observing creatures that live in extreme environments.

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