On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched the Eagle down in the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface, forever changing the path of humanity. Eventually, humans are sure to extend footprints further into the solar system and out into the galaxy. But as we leave Earth, exploring and starting colonies on other worlds, what are future bodysurfers to do with a lack of liquid water and breaking waves? The Universe is a phenomenally dynamic place. While we may never find a planet as idyllic as Earth, the potential exists for waves elsewhere. Waves are generated by wind blowing over fluid, as our knowledge of alien worlds increases, we find no lack of wind or fluids. Let’s take a look at some possibilities for waves in Space.
The most intriguing candidate in our solar system is Saturn’s moon Titan. Discovered in 1655 and visited by a robot in 2005. Titan is the only other object in our solar system to have stable liquid on its surface. It also has a thick atmosphere, rain, rocky ground, plate tectonics and polar winds. Appears similar to Earth, except for the -290F average surface temperature and seas filled with liquid methane. In 2004, while studying Saturn, the NASA/ESA spacecraft Cassini, deployed a small robotic lander names Huygens to the surface of Titan. On its way through the atmosphere, Huygens took photos of what appear to be watersheds and coastlines along large bodies of liquid. Is that the whitewater of breaking waves along the shore?
In 2014, astronomers announced the discovery of waves on the surface of these Oceans of liquid methane. Planetary scientist, John Barnes stated, “This discovery represents the first sea-surface waves known outside of Earth.” Kraken Mare is the largest sea in the north polar region and is most likely to have fetch for wave generation. On Titan, there is wind and there exists large bodies of liquid. Potential rivermouth and pointbreak setups abound. Someday in the future, astronauts will venture deep into our Solar System and explore Titan. With continued technological progression, spacesuits and materials will be able to withstand the dangers of bodysurfing on Titan.
If the biggest waves are created by the biggest storms, lasting the longest time, with the strongest winds, then imagine the waves created by the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. The ultimate wave model purple, err, red blob! First observed about 200 years ago and likely existing for much longer, this monstrous maelstrom is 19,000 miles wide and would swallow 3 whole Earths. Wind speed in the anticyclone is a consistent 350mph…if there is liquid below that atmosphere, the generated swell is massive! The fastest wind in the Solar System whips around the planet Neptune at 1,500mph. The strongest winds yet discovered in the universe swirl around a black hole at 20 million mph!
The Hollywood blockbuster movie, Interstellar, hypothesizes a 4,000ft. wave breaking in waist deep water, across an entire planet. Apparently, this is not a wind generated wave but rather the result of extreme tidal forces from a nearby black hole. Although not scientifically plausible, the visualization of the giant wave makes for an interesting mindsurf.
Recently, astronomers announced theoretical evidence for a 9th planet orbiting our Sun in the farthest reaches of our solar system. Maybe there are exotic waves of liquid oxygen there. Astronomers have found evidence for “Ocean Planets” orbiting other stars, such as Kepler 22-b and Gliese 581d. The surface of these worlds are hypothesized to be covered in liquid water.
There are intriguing possibilities for space-faring waveriders of the future. As our knowledge increases, so do the chances of finding perfect waves elsewhere in the Multiverse.
NASA- Cassini-Huygens Mission to Titan