Robert Ballard, the explorer who found the Titanic, is currently on a mission to find the remains of Amelia Earhart's plane. In an interview with the New York Times, Ballard explains how he got hooked on the Earhart search, and it began several years ago when an old friend from their days in naval intelligence told him, "I want to show you a picture." What was seen in that grainy black-and-white image turned out to be what's known in Earhart circles as the "Bevington Object." The photo shows, Ballard now believes, landing gear from Earhart's plane in a reef off tiny Nikumaroro Island in the Pacific. A British officer named Eric Bevington took the image in 1937 while searching for Earhart, though it wasn't until 2010 that a forensic imaging expert detected the telltale blur and concluded its shape was consistent with the landing gear from Earhart's plane.
Ballard first saw that image in 2012, and he's now co-leading a search around Nikumaroro in his high-tech ship, the Nautilus. It's more complicated than you'd think. "Imagine searching the side of a volcano at night with a flashlight," says Ballard. The National Geographic Society is funding the mission, and National Geographic magazine has a detailed look at how the search, which just got underway this month, is unfolding. The first step is sending out a "robot boat" to map the underwater terrain. Then comes painstaking analysis of the resulting data, in the hunt for anomalies. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) send back a constant stream of video to be scrutinized as well. "Everything I ever found was found visually," says Ballard. (Previous searches based on the Bevington Object have been fruitless.)