James Cameron completes solo dive of the Mariana Trench

A couple of weeks ago we told you about James Cameron’s plans to dive the Mariana Trench, a massive canyon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that marks the deepest point on our planet. This past weekend Cameron saw those plans come to fruition when he crawled inside his specially built submersible – dubbed the DeepSea Challenger – and piloted the vehicle nearly seven miles beneath the surface. Once there, he not only set a record for the deepest solo dive in history, but he also became the first person to catch a real glimpse of the murkiest depths of the ocean floor.

Cameron’s journey began with a two-and-a-half hour descent into the Challenger Deep, a cold, sunless abyss that has only been visited by man on one previous occasion. His original plan was to spend six hours exploring those depths but several malfunctions to the sub caused him to cut short his visit. First a mechanical arm designed to collect samples from the ocean floor refused to work and later, the starboard thrusters on the vehicle failed as well. With those engines out, Cameron couldn’t maneuver properly, which prompted him to return to the surface about three hours ahead of schedule. His ascent took approximately 70 minutes to complete.

The bottom of the Mariana Trench was previously only visited by ocean explorers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard back in 1960. When they made that historic dive over 52 years ago they didn’t have the sophisticated equipment that Cameron carried with him on his expedition. In fact, Walsh and Piccard didn’t even have lights that could penetrate those depths and as a result, Cameron is the first person to actually see the bottom of the trench with any clarity. He described that place as desolate and isolated, and even compared it to the surface of the moon. He also says that he found only very small organisms living at those incredible depths.

Even while wearing his explorer’s cap Cameron can’t get away from his filmmaking roots. The entire voyage was filmed in high definition 3D and the footage will be used in an upcoming documentary on sea exploration. The director expects to collect more video for the film on future dives as well, and has already indicated that a second dive could take place in a matter of days or weeks. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they have to show us.

Find out more about expedition at DeepSeaChallenge.com.

[Photo credit: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic]

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James Cameron to dive the Mariana Trench

Legendary director James Cameron is no stranger to big adventures. After all he is the man responsible for bringing such Hollywood hits as Titanic and Avatar to the silver screen. Last week Cameron announced plans for a big adventure of his own, saying he now plans to dive to the lowest point on the planet, which is found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Located in the Pacific Ocean, the mysterious trench stretches 1580 miles in length and plunges nearly seven miles below the Earth’s surface. Using specially designed equipment, Cameron plans to spend about six hours at the Challenger Deep, the absolute lowest point inside the trench. While there he’ll collect samples for use in research in marine biology, microbiology, geology, and a host of other scientific fields.

Cameron has partnered with National Geographic and Rolex for this expedition, which he calls “DeepSea Challenge.” The filmmaker plans to shoot the entire experience with 3D HD cameras for use in a future documentary on the voyage, which will be made in a submersible that has been specifically built to withstand the incredible pressures that exist inside the trench. That vehicle was built by Cameron and his team and has already been tested to a depth of five miles.The bottom of the Mariana Trench has only been visited by humans on one previous occasion. In January of 1960 ocean explorers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard made their way to those incredible depths where they were surprised to find a number of lifeforms thriving.

There is no specific date set for Cameron’s dive, but he is currently in Guam making last minute preparations. Follow the entire adventure on the DeepSea Challenge website.

[Photo courtesy National Geographic]

China renames mountain that inspired Avatar

While James Cameron’s latest epic, Avatar, continues to smash box office records around the globe, a remote Chinese mountain has been renamed to honor the film, and no doubt attract fans of Pandora in the process.

Located in the Zhangjiajie region of the Hunan province, the mountain was formerly known as the “Southern Sky Column”. Local officials claim that the rocky spire was the inspiration for the floating “Hallelujah Mountains”, the mystical floating peaks that are prominent in Avatar.

According to this story from Reuters, a Hollywood photographer was in the area in 2008 capturing the look of the mountain from a variety of angles. Those photos would later be used to construct the flying mountains of Pandora that would later appear in full 3D on the silver screen.

This past Monday a ceremony was held in Zhangjiajie to officially rename the peak “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain”, and the local tourism board is hoping that fans of the blockbuster film will want to come visit the place for themselves. The mountain is located in the Wulingyan National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to more than 3000 similar peaks. Reportedly, local tourist agencies have already begun to offer “Avatar-Pandora Tours”, taking visitors to see the mountain, promising to deliver a bit of Pandora here on Earth.

As of this writing, Avatar has earned more than $80 million in China, making it the most popular film of all time in that country. Earlier this week, the film also passed the $1.84 billion mark in box office receipts, surpassing Titanic as the highest grossing film in history.

Jesus’ Bones Tour

If you missed the press conference at the New York Public Library, where filmmaker James Cameron announced his new Discovery Channel movie, you might want to read up and do a little digging yourself.

If you hadn’t heard the hype, Cameron’s movie The Lost Tomb of Jesus, airs this Sunday. In it, he apparently argues that a couple of caskets, ossuaries actually, once contained the bones of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Not only that, but, ala Dan Brown, he suggests they were a family…with children. The ossuaries made the trip for the press conference (hopefully not on JetBlue), as did a few experts.

Now, the discovery of the ossuaries is not new. They were found in 1980 in a Jerusalem ‘suburb’ of Talpiot. And, forgetting the multiple controversies that surround the whole thing (including the assertion by the lead archaeologist that the movie’s claims are baloney), you can visit the town yourself.

The modern town is pure 20th century, and includes a vibrant club culture (where you can shake your own bones), but there’s also more distant culture and history. For example, walk along the Haas Promenade for sweeping views of the old city.