"Titanic" director James Cameron dove to the Earth's deepest point in a specially designed submarine, the National Geographic Society said, making him the first man to travel alone to the near 7-mile depth of the Marianas Trench.
The Hollywood icon, also the director of "Avatar" and other films, touched down in the western Pacific Ocean's low point shortly before 8 a.m. Guam time today (Sunday evening in the U.S. East Coast), the Geographic said.
He reached a depth of 35,756 feet and stayed on the bottom for about three hours before he began his return to the surface, according to information provided by the expedition team. He had planned to spend up to six hours on the sea floor.
"Cameron collected samples for research in marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology and geophysics," the Geographic said.
He also spent time filming the Marianas Trench, about 200 miles southwest of the Pacific island of Guam.
The trip to the deepest point took two hours and 36 minutes. But Cameron's return aboard his 12-ton, lime-green sub called Deepsea Challenger was a "faster-than-expected 70-minute ascent," according to National Geographic. A helicopter spotted the submersible bobbing in the water and it was brought aboard the ship by a crane.
There were no immediate word on Cameron's physical condition after the dive, but the expedition said he planned a video interview later in the day. A medical team was present when Cameron, 57, emerged from the sub, according to the expedition.
Expedition physician Joe MacInnis told National Geographic News before the journey that recent test dives, including one that went more than five miles deep, had gone well and that he expected Cameron would be fine.
"Jim is going to be a little bit stiff and sore from the cramped position, but he's in really good shape for his age, so I don't expect any problems at all," said MacInnis, a long-time Cameron friend, according to National Geographic.
Cameron also captured still photographs and video, but there was no immediate word on when the images will be released. The Geographic said the expedition is being chronicled for a 3-D feature film for theatrical release and subsequent TV broadcast.
"There is scientific value in getting stereo images because ... you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can't from 2-D images," Cameron told the Geographic before the dive.
"This journey is the culmination of more than seven years of planning," said Cameron. "Most importantly, though, is the significance of pushing the boundaries of where humans can go, what they can see and how they can interpret it."
The scale of the trench is hard to grasp — it's 120 times larger than the Grand Canyon and more than a mile deeper than Mount Everest is tall.
"It's really the first time that human eyes have had an opportunity to gaze upon what is a very alien landscape," said Terry Garcia, the National Geographic Society's executive VP for mission programs, via phone from Scotland.
Among the 2.5-story-tall sub's tools were a sediment sampler, a robotic claw, a "slurp gun" for sucking up small seacreatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges.
Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, a U.S. Navy captain, are the only others to reach the spot. They spent about 20 minutes there during their 1960 dive but couldn't see much after their sub kicked up sand from the sea floor.
One of the risks of a dive so deep was extreme water pressure. At 6.8 miles below the surface, the pressure is the equivalent of three SUVs sitting on your toe.
Cameron told the Associated Press in an interview after a 5.1 mile-deep practice run near Papua New Guinea earlier this month that the pressure "is in the back of your mind." The submarine would implode in an instant if it leaked, he said.
But while he was a little apprehensive beforehand, he wasn't scared or nervous while underwater.
"When you are actually on the dive you have to trust the engineering was done right," he said.
The film director has been an oceanography enthusiast since childhood and has made 72 deep-sea submersible dives. Thirty-three of those dives have been to the wreckage of the Titanic, the subject of his 1997 hit film, which is being released in a 3-D version next month.
Coronacollina acula may also help us recognise life elsewhere in the universe
At between 550 and 560 million years old, an animal discovered in South Australia recently is the oldest with a skeleton ever found.
The organism, called Coronacollina acula, was found by a team from the University of California.
The finding provides insight into the evolution of life – particularly, early life – on the planet, why animals go extinct, and how organisms respond to environmental changes.
The discovery also can help scientists recognise life elsewhere in the universe.
Coronacollina acula lived on the seafloor. It was shaped like a thimble with at least four 20 to 40-centimetre-long spikes called ’spicules’ attached. These probably held the creature up.
Its age places it in the Ediacaran period, before the explosion of life and diversification of organisms took place on Earth in the Cambrian, 488 to 542 million years ago.
‘Up until the Cambrian, it was understood that animals were soft bodied and had no hard parts,’ said Mary Droser, lead researcher and a professor of geology at the University of California.
‘But we now have an organism with individual skeletal body parts that appears before the Cambrian. It is therefore the oldest animal with hard parts, and it has a number of them - they would have been structural supports - essentially holding it up. This is a major innovation for animals.’
Coronacollina acula is seen in the fossils as a depression measuring a few millimetres to two centimetres deep. But because rocks compact over time, the organism could have been bigger – three to five centimetres tall. Notably, it is constructed in the same way that Cambrian sponges were constructed.
‘It therefore provides a link between the two time intervals,’ Droser said. ‘We're calling it the “harbinger of Cambrian constructional morphology”, which is to say it's a precursor of organisms seen in the Cambrian. This is tremendously exciting because it is the first appearance of one of the major novelties of animal evolution.’
According to Droser, the appearance of Coronacollina acula signals that the initiation of skeletons was not as sudden in the Cambrian as was thought, and that Ediacaran animals like it are part of the evolutionary lineage of animals as we know them.
‘The fate of the earliest Ediacaran animals has been a subject of debate, with many suggesting that they all went extinct just before the Cambrian,’ she said. ‘Our discovery shows that they did not.’
Results of the study appeared online recently in Geology.