The Inertia for Good Editor

The Inertia

Most of this planet is covered by water. That’s not exactly breaking news or a revelatory statement, but it’s a thought that sometimes gives perspective to how much of Earth we have yet to see, touch, or even explore.

About five years ago, somebody mapped out what was theoretically the longest straight-line path man could sail around the ocean without ever touching land. They posted it to Reddit because that’s the kind of random place you keep such information. Recently, Rohan Chabukswar, a physicist at United Technologies Research Center Ireland, and Kushal Mukherjee, an engineer at IBM Research India in New Delhi, verified the path for the first time. And the interesting part of it all is that it’s a path that’s likely never been traveled — which means now that the word is out, the countdown has officially started for somebody to take the 19,940-mile trip between Pakistan and Russia.

To verify the path, the scientists used data from NOAA’s ETOPO1 Global Relief model of Earth to map out features around the world down to about a mile in scale. After finding the number of Earth’s great circles — which are just fancy terms to point out the path around a sphere whose distance is equal to the circumference of said sphere —  they tested out the path the make sure it was entirely within the ocean. On the surface (no pun intended), this sounds like it’d be an easy project, right? Well, it turns out there are actually hundreds of millions of possible great circles and each would require tens of thousands of different plot points to verify. This means there are over 5 trillion different points to verifyUsing a computer program and an algorithm you nor I will probably ever understand, they figured it out in 10 minutes and shared the results with all their scientist friends. Oddly enough, the new discovery actually lays out like a bell curve on a map but this is pretty rad no matter how you look at it.