What does space share with our deepest seas?

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By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

I used to joke with my friend Bradley that we should do the science version of an epic rap battle; me in defense of deep space, and him championing the deep sea. It surprises me how often they are pitted against each other when it comes to research funding and public outreach. Both areas of exploration share so many challenges—the main one being getting humans to inhospitable places—and in a lot of ways, they share many of the same goals, such as broadening our understanding of where life might thrive.

Now, it seems we have the ultimate tie-breaker in former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan (pictured above). This week, she descended to the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, a whopping 6.9 miles below the surface of the Pacific. She accomplished this feat aboard a privately funded submersible, and she capped the experience by calling up the International Space Station, which recently welcomed two astronauts who launched into orbit aboard a privately funded rocket and space capsule.

I would have loved to listen in on that conversation—or better yet, be a fly on the wall at the get-together I imagine a few months from now, with these record-setting explorers back on dry land and comparing notes over a pint. Would they talk about the odd life-forms that dwell in Earth’s deepest seas, and how they may well resemble what we’d find in the oceans of a Jovian moon? Will they gripe about how cramped it can get in capsules built for such drastic extremes; one under crushing watery pressure, and one in the near-vacuum of space?

In my mind, they’d talk about how exciting and humbling it is to be an explorer, and how important it is that we are good stewards to even the most remote regions of the cosmos. As we push boundaries and make the most out of drastic leaps in technology, it’s good to be reminded that humans are capable of remarkable things. But these astronauts and oceanographers know all too keenly that humans are messy. They’ll be among the first to tell you that preventing a mess is far better than cleaning one up. For every story about plastic found in the bottom of the Mariana Trench, there’s one about debris littering low-Earth orbit.

Maybe sea and space have too much in common for a rap battle to really light up. But Bradley, old sparring partner, since Sullivan’s done both space and sea, I guess she should have the mic drop.

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This week in the night sky

Mars meets the moon and Neptune: A sky-watching opportunity will present itself before dawn on Friday, as the planets Mars and Neptune have a close encounter. Turn your telescope toward the southern sky at the bright red, star-like Mars. Within the same low-magnification field-of-view, the much fainter bluish disk of Neptune will be visible. The brightness difference between these two worlds is astounding—Mars shines some 1,800 times brighter than the eighth world from the sun. Neptune sits so far from Earth that reflected sunlight off the cloud tops of this ice giant takes 250 minutes to reach us. By Saturday morning, look for the quarter moon paying a visit to the red planet in the southern sky. Both worlds will make for a stunning pair as seen with unaided eyes. — Andrew Fazekas

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The last glimpse

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Photos: The amazing sea life in the Seamounts Marine National Monument

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading, and have a good week ahead.

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