British Sub-Bot to Explore the Bubbling, Molten Depths of the Caribbean's Deepest, Hottest GashS

Beneath the sea between Cuba and Jamaica lies the Cayman Trough, a rift where two tectonic plates are pulling away from each other, leaving a three-mile deep volcanic trench. Scientists are going to drown some robots in it.

The National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, has sent the Royal Research Ship James Cook to the Caribbean, chockablock with robots and autonomous submarines designed to sniff around in the depths and discover what sort of life might be living next to the "black smoker" columns of vulcan sputum. It's this sort of life (like giant tubeworms), living underwater far from the energy and ecosystem of sunlight, which helps us understand how life on other planets may evolve. Plus it's pretty nifty here on our own planet, too.

British Sub-Bot to Explore the Bubbling, Molten Depths of the Caribbean's Deepest, Hottest GashS

As befits a modern research trip, "Voyage 44" has a website that they'll be updating. The team is on Twitter. If you're a teacher, they've set up a form to let kids ask questions of the expedition team. You could easily build a whole module around that.

Four different sensor and robot packages are on-board the James Cook, including the fancy Autosub6000 [pictured] which can explore the trough on its own, poking around for vents without immediate interaction from the expedition team. [National Oceanography Centre, Southampton]

See Also: Exploration of Casablanca Seamount finds underwater volcano teeming with life [Times UK]