Scientists were surprised that hydrothermal vents could harbor such a dizzying array of species. The real stunner, however, came in the form of what looked like a feathery, elongated lipstick tube: Riftia pachyptila, more commonly known as the giant tube worm.
Its discovery upended one of biology's core tenets: That all life essentially depends on the energy of the sun, either by using sunlight for photosynthesis or by munching photosynthesizing organisms. By contrast, in the tube worm millions of symbiotic bacteria that dwell within the its large plumes grab hydrogen sulfide and other noxious chemicals that seep from the vents and convert them into food and energy for their host, a process called chemosynthesis.
In 1998, a bot known as ROPOS ("Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science") sawed a black smoker free from the sea floor and hauled it up to allow scientists to examine its structure and unique organisms.