Newly Discovered Sea Sponge Named After E.T.

The ocean is a massive place full of both unexplored areas and fascinating creatures, some of which look like more like they came from outer space rather than the deep blue sea and that's certainly the case for a new type of sponge. A newly published paper reveals that scientists have identified and named a new genus and species of sponge that looks more than a bit like one of film's most beloved alien characters: E.T. And researchers have even given it a suitably alien name, too.

In the paper, "A collection of hexactinellids (Porifera) from the deep South Atlantic and North Pacific: new genus, new species and new records" (via Ocean Exploration and Research), the new sponge -- named Advhena magnifica, which is Latin for "magnificent alien" -- was spotted in 2017 during the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer in the Pacific. Located roughly 850 miles southwest of Hawaii, explorers came upon a seascape they dubbed "Forest of the Weird" and noted that, among the various sponges on stalks in the seascape was one in particular that strongly resembled E.T., the character at the center of Steven Spielberg's beloved 1982 science fiction film.

et sponge noaa
(Photo: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas)

"In the case of Advhena magnifica, the shape of this sponge is reminiscent of an alien, like in the movies, with what looks like a long thin neck, an elongated head, and huge eyes," Dr. Cristiana Castello Branco, who discovered the sponge, said. "While we haven't 'officially' given it a common name in our paper, 'E.T. sponge' seems to fit."

It also turns out that scientists on Okeanos Explorer had encountered the same sponge type a year previously as well, that time just east of the Mariana Trench. A sample of the "E.T. sponge" was collected at that time.

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As for the general area where the "E.T. sponge" was found, the so-called Forest of the Weird is a prehistoric area of the Pacific Ocean and while the discovery of new species of deep-sea sponges isn't uncommon, Dr. Branco explained that each new discovery helps contribute to a better understanding of life on Earth.

"When we find a new genus or species, we are helping to describe our planet’s marine biodiversity, which refers to the variety of living organisms in the ocean, from bacteria and fungi to invertebrates and fish, all the way to marine mammals and birds," she said. "As all of these organisms are intricately connected, by documenting and describing marine biodiversity, we are building a better understanding of life and the impact of humans on Earth (in this case, in the ocean)."

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