Ocean explorers found a golden orb on the Alaskan seafloor, and they have no idea what it is

  • Marine researchers found a mysterious golden orb deep on the Alaskan seafloor.

  • The team joked it was like something out of a horror movie because it's so puzzling.

  • A remotely operated vehicle picked up the egg-like object, which scientists will now test.

Earth's oceans are vast and mysterious, and scientists have yet to describe roughly 91% of its species. It's not entirely surprising, then, that deep-sea explorers just found something entirely new during an Alaskan expedition.

But this particular object, what looks like the remains of some type of golden orb or egg, surprised scientists. "I don't know what to make of that," said a researcher during a live stream of the expedition.

The mysterious object that resembles a reject from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory was discovered on August 30 as part of the Seascape Alaska 5 expedition that's using a remotely operated vehicle to map the Alaska seafloor. The team that found it is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ocean Exploration.

Usually, researchers can at least guess how an unknown specimen fits in with other species just by looking at it, Sam Candio, the expedition's coordinator, told Insider via email.

But the orb completely puzzled them. "With this sample, we need that further lab analysis to even begin placing it into any kind of biological group," he said.

An egg casing, a sponge, or something more strange

Using a remotely-operated vehicle 2 miles under the ocean, the researchers were cruising around the Kodiak–Bowie Seamount chain of extinct volcanoes when they saw the orb, Candio said. "Essentially we stumbled across it," he said.

"This is a depth zone with very little data about the species that inhabit it, particularly in the Gulf of Alaska, so we were hopeful that we would find something interesting and new," Candio said.

Team members joked that the orb looked like something out of a horror movie. The orb could be an egg case or sponge, but Candio isn't ruling out "something more strange."

A hand holds a melted-looking golden orb that NOAA researchers found on the Alskan seafloor
Researchers need to perform tests to discover more about the mysterious golden orb.NOAA Ocean Exploration, Seascape Alaska

The remote vehicle comes with a vacuum-like device that its robotic arm used to suction up the squishy egg, which has a skin-like tissue.

"To the touch, it is flimsy on the edges and incredibly delicate and flaky," Candio said. "The center is a concave dome shape and firmer than the edges."

Researchers will need to perform tests — including DNA, dissection, and microscopy, Candio said — before they can determine what species the fleshy orb belongs to.

"The more information we got through visual analysis and sampling of the orb, the less we felt we knew about it, which is exciting!" he said.

Moving around the seafloor as deep as 3.7 miles below the surface, the vehicle has come across something unique or unexpected on every dive, Candio said.

"The diversity and wonder of the waters surrounding Alaska has been nothing short of breathtaking," he added.

You can watch the live stream from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET through September 15 to see other interesting marine life, from carnivorous sponges to octopuses guarding their eggs.

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