Astro-Surfer | A Speculative Journey Through Our Solar System And Beyond In Search Of Waves

Shredding a supernova.  

Surfing on a distant star in a galaxy far, far, away.  Walking out on the nose of your board for a cheater-five, riding a nebulous cloud through the infinite darkness of space. Getting spit out of a black hole, executing a grab-rail, carving cut-back.  Ripping a hole in the space-time continuum. Finessing the very fabric of the Universe.

Water is cosmic.

All of the water on Earth came from space in exactly the form it is in now: H2O.  Water not only came from space it was created out in space.  Hundreds of millions (or even billions) of years before the solar system itself, the world’s Ocean came from an interstellar cloud somewhere in the Milky Way galaxy—formed one molecule at a time.  All of the water on Earth was delivered here when Earth was formed (within the first 100 million years or so) and what we have is what we’ve got.  There is no geological mechanism on Earth to create or destroy H20.  The Ocean (and all of Earth’s water) has literally been here forever.

The Ocean—all the water on Earth—began as the finest mist, tiny ice crystals drifting around inside an interstellar cloud. However, scientists don’t actually know how all that water gets from the interstellar cloud to our Ocean, nor do they know how much water is actually on Earth.

The Orion Molecular Cloud.

Distance from Earth: a mere 1400 light years (1 light year = 5.88 trillion miles)

The OMC is an interstellar spring of water. This massive glowing cloud of hydrogen gives birth to thousands of stars at once.  As the stars coalesce and collapse in on themselves, they send shockwaves out through the clouds of gas which contain lots of loose hydrogen and oxygen.  When the shock waves slam the hydrogens and oxygens into each other, they often form water. There is enough water being formed in the OMC to fill all of Earth’s Oceans every 24 minutes.  Surf’s up!

The Orion Molecular Cloud is making 60 Earth Oceans every 24 hours but it is doing it across a span of space 420 times the size of our entire solar system—so even the dustiest (most dense, with the most particles) parts of the cloud are emptier than any vacuum that people can create on Earth.

Venus.

Distance from Earth: 162 million miles

Venus may have been our solar system’s first Ocean world—a supercritical carbon dioxide Ocean of a bubbly sort of fluid that flowed a bit more like a liquid, with bubbles that behaved more like a gas popping up where the temperature and pressure varied a bit. Here on Earth, International Surfing Day is celebrated in the Summer on the longest day of the year.  Venus boasts an endless summer—with an average surface temperature of 864° Fahrenheit (462° C)—and a single day on Venus is equal to 243 Earth days.  That’s a lot of time to surf each day!  Venus is so hot, though, that the atmospheric pressure (92 bar or 1334 pounds per square inch pressing down on you) would be the equivalent of being 3000 feet deep in the Oceanyou would be crushed before you ever had a chance to catch a bubbling hot wave.

Surfer crushing it on Venus.

It’s this extreme Venusian pressure and heat that initially may have created a supercritical carbon dioxide Ocean.  Scientists are still in debate on what type of liquid—water or lava—etched Venus’ surface features which look very much like canyons, lake beds, and broad plains that may have once been sea floors. Venus no longer has liquid on its surface, the planet is dry and is not currently hot enough to melt its carbons (which make up 96% of its atmosphere).  While the surface rotates slowly, the winds blow at hurricane force, sending clouds around the planet every five days.  Venus lacks a strong global magnetic field, which on Earth helps protect our atmosphere.  If there ever was an Ocean of water here, then Billions of years ago, a runaway greenhouse effect began raising temperatures enough (over 1340° F or 727° C) on Venus to boil off all of the water in the Ocean ( a small amount of water vapor still exist on Venus, something like 20 parts-per-million), which escaped into space due to the unrelenting solar wind.

“Should’ve been here billions of years ago, the surf was firing—before the wind got on it.” -Surfer on Venus

Mars.

Distance from Earth: 34 million miles

Mars was once much more Earth-like, with a thick atmosphere, abundant water, and an Ocean covering nearly a third of the Red Planet.  Imagine surfing huge, slow-motion barrels. Mars has only 10% the mass of Earth and its gravitational field is only one-third of Earth’s so less gravity would produce larger yet slower moving waves compared to Ocean swells of Earth. Aerial surfing maneuvers would be extra lofty.  However, Mars lost its protective atmosphere billions of years ago and has since lost approximately 87% of its water. Most of its remaining water is frozen in ice caps or trapped beneath the soil, but a small amount of muddy, brackish water can be seen moving down the side of Martian hills in the local summer.

“I think I see a river on the side of that hill, maybe we could surf that?”

Europa. Ganymede. Callisto. (Moons Of Jupiter)

Distance from Earth: 365 to 601 million miles depending on orbit

Europa is craggy, ice-crusted, with an Ocean below the surface.   In 2016, the NASA Hubble telescope spotted water plumes erupting off the moon’s surface.  The tidal effects of its massive parent planet, Jupiter, pull so hard that it creates intense friction inside the moon—actually stretching the entire moon into an oval as it passes through Jupiter’s gravitational field—which keeps the sub-surface Ocean liquid (and possibly even warm due to the help of hydrothermal vents) below the icy crust.  So there just might be some frigid, surfable waves if you catch Europa’s potential surf spots on the right tide.

Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system and possesses a saltwater Ocean 95 miles below its crust that reaches a depth of 60 miles. Ganymede experiences many of the same tidal effects as Europa that could keep the Ocean as a liquid.

Callisto has an Ocean 6 miles deep, but it’s buried beneath 124 miles of ice and since it is the furthest of Jupiter’s moons it experiences less tidal heating.

Surfing on Europa is all about timing the tides right, it also definitely requires a thick wetsuit and possibly a hazmat suit as well due to the large amount of solar radiation that Jupiter traps in its magnetosphere—the magnetic field surrounding the planet—(which is 20,000 times larger than Earth’s). Since Europa lacks an atmosphere it is directly exposed to the high radioactivity, but this icy-wave—which appears alien—is not actually on Europa; it’s in Nantucket, Massachusettes. CLICK THE PICTURE to view an other-worldly video of surfers who may as well be from a different planet.

Enceladus. (Moon Of Saturn)

Distance from Earth: 790 million miles

National Aeronautics and Space Administration spacecraft and surf-probe, Cassini recently revealed that Enceladus hides a global Ocean of liquid salty water beneath its icy crust.  Jets of icy particles from that Ocean, laced with a brew of water and organic material, erupt out into space at 800 miles per hour and form a plume that extends hundreds of miles into space.  The moon spews 1,000 tons of water into space every hour, some of which falls back to Enceladus like snow (which explains why the moon is the most reflective object in our solar system) and some of it escapes to form Saturn’s E-Ring.  It might be too cold on Enceladus to actually surf but with all that fresh powder it might be perfect for snowboarding or windsurfing on ice.

At maximum, snowmaking machines at Big Bear Mountain in California can only convert 30,000 to 36,000 gallons of water to snow per hour. Enceladus is producing 200,000 tons per hour of pow pow.

Titan. (Moon Of Saturn)

Distance from Earth: 746 million to over a billion miles (10x as far from the Sun as Earth)

Beware of methane-dwelling sea monsters.

Albino octopus found living at the bottom of the sea-floor near hydrothermal vents on Earth—not Titan.

Titan is home to three large seas: Ontario Lacus (20% smaller than its namesake, Lake Ontario); Kraken Mare (its largest sea, larger than the Caspian Sea); Ligeia Mare (larger than Lake Superior) where the only waves anywhere other than Earth have been detected. Titan’s waves are best during its 7-year summer as the changing season creates wind swells across its hydrocarbon seas (consisting mostly of methane). Sounds awesome but before you pack up your surfboards and contact Elon Musk about travel arrangements you ought to consider the following:

Titan receives 1% as much sunlight as Earth and its average surface temperature is -355° Fahrenheit (-179° Celsius).  The sea temperature on Titan is estimated to be a little warmer at a balmy -292° F (-180° C), so if you’re thinking about surfing there you should contact those surfers from Nantucket (or Great Lakes surfers) about the proper wetsuit to use.

NASA’s surf-check probe, the Cassini spacecraft’s image of Saturn’s moon, Titan showed light being reflected from Ligeia Mare, a frigid sea of hydrocarbons on that moon.

According to mathematical modeling and radar imagery, Titan’s waves are only 0.6 inches (1.5 centimeters) tall and move at a speed of 2.3 feet (0.7 meters) per second. Yeah…but you could probably still longboard those waves, right?  Titan’s waves ripple across the moon, which is covered in ice 62 miles (100 km) thick. Below the ice is a sub-surface Ocean (as salty as the Dead Sea) made up of water and ammonia which allows water to remain in a liquid state even in temperatures as low as -207° F (-97° C). Seems the surf of Titan could benefit from a little greenhouse effect. Then again, that might not be such a bright idea.

An independent study at the University of Arizona reported that when energy was applied to a combination of gases like those found in Titan’s atmosphere many organic compounds were produced, including the five nucleotide bases—the building blocks of DNA and RNA—as well as amino acids—the building blocks of proteins.  So if Saturn’s moon eventually does heat up, its waves start increasing, and you find yourself surfing on Kraken Mare, who knows what sort of creatures from the deep you may encounter in the Titan line-up.

While surfing on Titan BEWARE OF EXTREMOPHILES—organisms that thrive in extreme environments near hydrothermal vents where heat is transferred from the moon’s interior to its upper layers.

“Those NASA wetsuits are far-out, man.”

Pluto.

Distance from Earth: 4.67 billion miles

Pluto, with radioactive elements like uranium, potassium-40, and thorium beneath the surface, is another place that may require a very special wetsuit—perhaps lined with lead.  When these elements undergo radioactive decay they release enough heat to keep water at a liquid state.  So below Pluto’s icy surface, there may be a nuclear Ocean.

lo. (Moon of Jupiter)

Distance from Earth: 390.4 million miles

The most volcanic body in our solar system with over 400 volcanoes, plagued by constant explosions and lava flows.  lo has a global magma Ocean underground.  In its orbit, lo passes so close to Jupiter that the gravitational pull on the moon actually bulges the moon’s surface up to 328 feet. This tidal pumping generates a tremendous amount of heat, keeping the magma Ocean in a liquid state while inducing volcanic mayhem on the surface. If you could surf on magma it’d probably be all slow and mushy anyway. Also, don’t wipeout or else you’re toast.

At one point in time Earth was covered in a giant Ocean of magma. When an asteroid struck molten Earth, the collision ejected the magma into space and according to some scientists it ended up forming our very moon.  This is Jupiter’s moon, lo (pictured).

Neptune and Uranus.

Distance from Earth: Neptune 2.8 billion miles; Uranus 1.8 billion miles

On the outer edges of our solar system, these two icy gas giants have similar mantles made up of water, ammonia, and methane ices. Due to the massive weight of these planets, their mantles are under enormous pressure (temperature ranges from 3,141° F (1,727° C) and 8,451° F (4,727° C)).  Under these extreme conditions, the methane breaks up into its core components, producing pure carbon, which under immense pressure forms into diamonds.

High pressure coupled with intense heat causes the diamonds to melt, forming diamond Oceans. Just as ice floats on top of water, solid diamond will float over liquid diamond, meaning there could potentially be “diamond-bergs” floating on top of a diamond Ocean.

Jupiter.

Distance from Earth: 365 to 601 million miles depending on orbit

Jupiter is so big that over 1300 Earths could fit inside of it.

Beneath the destructive clouds of Jupiter is the largest Ocean in our solar system—an Ocean of liquid hydrogen. The Ocean is 78% of the planet’s radius, and 33, 884 miles deep (the deepest point of Earth’s Ocean is the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which is 7 miles underwater). Hydrogen gas requires 100 million times the atmospheric pressure of Earth to become a liquid. Due to the extreme pressure of Jupiter’s interior liquid metallic hydrogen releases electrons from hydrogen atoms, creating heat and electricity.  Surfing on a vast Ocean of liquid metallic hydrogen while dodging a constant barrage of lightning sounds like a terrifying death wish.

Beyond.

Beyond our solar system, astronomers have discovered more than 2500 planetary systems—stars with planets revolving around them—in our galaxy alone. Many of these planets are speculated to be in the habitable (or “Goldilocks”) zone–not too hot, nor too cold—and could potentially have Oceans of liquid water churning up perfect alien waves.

According to the best estimates of astronomers, there are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.  Secret surf spots galore, waiting to be discovered and surfed.

Someday (in the near future?) surfing pioneers might surf on seas of lava, plasma, tar, methane, diamonds, or strange supercritical liquids. One small surf for humanity, one giant aerial maneuver for humankind.

Wonder how much SpaceX charges for surfboard baggage fees?

Future Surf Voyage.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Astro-Surfer | A Speculative Journey Through Our Solar System And Beyond In Search Of Waves

  1. Beyond an interesting read. Fascinating! Worthy of multiple reads~ enjoyable and loaded with super cool facts! Photos are spectacular!

    1. Thank you! I’ve often wondered about waves on different worlds, and imagined surfing them. 🌊 As a surfer my head is constantly in the cosmos! Glad you enjoyed the ride, and the read 🤙🏽

      1. Yes, leading amateur astronomers (stars themselves) are capturing delicious flavors of light in more detailed images than were even humanly possible 25 years ago 💫

  2. Really enjoyed the article – as a former programmer at JPL on the Galileo spacecraft mission to Jupiter, your conflating solar system facts with surfing rang a bell! I was once asked at JPL why I always did things bit differently, and when I told ’em I was a surfer, they said, oh, that explains everything!
    One wave you did miss, as it turns out: Voyager 2 returned photos showing “spokes” in the rings of Saturn generated by magnetic anomalies in the planet that created “waves” about 120 meters high in the ring material. So theoretically, if you could time your sesh with the one of the anomalies, and had a board that could surf the wave of particles, you could go around the planet for a very long ride.
    Thanks again for a great article

      1. Thanks for the link to the spiral waves! What a swell! Looks like Chicama on an epic day! Indeed, Cassini acquired much better images than Voyager, and the waves shown in the link are just amazing – and I didn’t know about them. Thanks again – Glenn

  3. Really interesting and fun read. Probably best to stick to surfing on Earth for the timebeing it seems.

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