Great Whites and New Planets

I check out Surfpulse blog for local goings-on and discovered this fantastic footage of a beautiful adolescent great white shark. The footage was taken recently by a water sports man by the name of Chuck Patterson. Chuck was Stand Up Paddle surfing off of San Onofre State Beach and had a very close encounter with a eight or nine foot carcharodon carcharius-a great white shark.

San Onofre is almost five hundred miles away from Ocean Beach and both are within what is called ‘The Red Triangle.’ Tagged Great Whites have been detected moseying about the San Francisco Bay on occasion. I have long had an obsession about great white sharks—ever since I saw the nightmarish cover of Peter Benchley’s ‘Jaws’ at a neighborhood garage sale when I was a child.

There is a small part of me that would very much love to be in the water with one sometime. To see it—to know it sees me—and to swim, paddle, or surf away from it to tell the tale. One of those ‘conquering your fears by facing them’ type things. And why not–it happens more than you might think–it happened a week ago and in May–a hundred yards out from Ocean Beach. The truth is—I think they are lovely. They look like underwater space ships. I am a huge GWS nerd and I know tons of completely pointless trivia about them.

I know from research for example—that the great whites that favor the Northwest coast and the Farallons are a genetically distinct population from Australian and South African great whites. Great whites are an apex predator that have no fear of anything and whose only natural enemies really are orcas, us humans and the occasional dolphin pod. They are pretty intelligent for a fish and they have a huge brain—with about 70% of it dedicated to interpreting sensory data.

They have no way to explore or handle things they encounter in the water they are curious about—except to bump, nose or bite it—to see how it reacts and determine it’s qualities. Their frightening mouth is their hand that they use to grip, taste and test things. We count as objects of curiosity worth investigating
to a GWS and when they do an exploratory ‘nibble’ on one of us—it can separate a limb from the torso. It’s not like they mean to—they are just curious and it’s hard to be delicate or gentle when you weigh one or two tons and have a mouth full of steak knives.

I like water sports. Although I haven’t had the time or the money to spend indiscriminately on developing those interests into full-grown hobbies in recent years— I’d like to. Ocean Beach is a short walk away from me. So I could go paddleboarding, or shortboarding or parasailing like a lot of OB locals. But of all the non-diving related water or surf sports that exist, stand-up paddle surfing sounds like the one I would try. Chuck sums up the allure of SUP surfing very compellingly,

“The sport of stand up paddling gives you such a great view of marine life as you stand on top of your board paddling through the oceans and lakes. I think that is one of the most intriguing beauties that makes stand up paddling so inviting.–You are your own captain of your ship, exploring the waters of the world.”

And from the video, you can clearly see that the lovely shark scoping out Chuck just wanted to see what’s SUP! Ask me sometime about my other favorite ocean life—most of them hazardous to your health. HP reported it along with the news of a few 12-14 foot great whites visiting one of my old haunts–Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts.

In other news, scientists have found the smallest planets yet. At least five Neptune-like planets are circling a yellow Sol-type distant star called HD10180. Among those gas giants is a cold, rocky planet French Astronomers believe to be merely 1.4 times the size of Earth. This is exciting due to the statistical numbers game. There are billions of stars in our galaxy alone. It means its not only likely that there exist many multi-planetary solar systems orbiting stars like ours—its probably inevitable at this point—that they will discover a green or blue world in the Goldilocks Zone—not too close—not too far—from the sun. Enough for water and bacteria and possibly life—and who knows what else.

Maybe we will find an algae covered planet stewing in a shallow ocean. Maybe we will find  Paleozoic Planet sporting dragonfly-like insects with two-foot wings. Maybe will find intelligent life forms evolving their way up the ladder to civilization. Who knows. But I am very exited. When I was very young I wanted to be an astronomer like Copernicus or Carl Sagan’s ‘Eleanor Arroway’ from the book (and later movie) ‘Contact’. But unfortunately astronomy is pretty math-intensive and my math, frankly, sucks.

Astronomy is in the middle of a renaissance right now. They detect planets by the gravity perturbations on the star(s) they orbit–which creates wobbles in the light coming from the them. They’ve discovered the universe is simply littered with millions of galaxies. At the heart of every spiral and elliptical galaxy (including ours) lies a supermassive black hole that literally is holding the galaxy together with its power as it wanders the universe like a whirlpool in the ocean.

Their technology and science has led to the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and soon they will loft the James Webb Space Telescope which will be able to gaze into the beginnings of galaxy formation in the early days of the Universe.

In my dreams I see our robotic probes streaking at near-relativistic speeds towards the almost five hundred planetary systems that have been detected in the last fifteen years. Those robots will disgorge nanomachine builders which will create factories like hummingbirds that will suckle the volatile gases of these giant planets—converting the elements into building materials that will create our orbital colonies that we will inhabit while other Builders terraform the habitable planet nearby. While those Builders build our new homes—some of us will be asleep in cryostasis in a deep-range colony ship headed towards those planets on the blue vapors of ion drives. And in my dreams—I am one of those sleeping colonists who will someday wake up and live on a new world–far, far away.

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About Jane

Ms. Alexander. author, activist, artist
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