Why Have We Explored More of Outer Space Than the Ocean?

November 10, 2017
explored more of space than the ocean

You’d think we know more about the planet we live on than the vast openness of outer space, right? It makes sense, after all, we spend every waking hour on this Earth. Surely, we can’t have explored more of space than the ocean, right?

You might be surprised to find out that we can explain a whole lot more about space — at least the areas we know and can explore — than the ocean. How’s that for some food for thought?

Wait, what? We know more about space than the ocean?


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Consider the Evidence

The ocean makes up 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, and yet a ridiculous 95 percent is completely unexplored by humans. When you put it that way, it seems much more plausible that unknown creatures — such as the Loch Ness monster — exist out there.

Of course, one could argue that the entire ocean floor has been mapped by imaging equipment. Technically, we know everything about the bottom of the sea floor, right? Except, the mapping hardware was only used at a resolution of up to five kilometers, or three miles. What does that mean? Well, anything larger than five kilometers has not been documented or mapped.

This means there’s still a lot— especially of smaller size — that we have yet to explore and uncover. Furthermore, no one has actually scoured every inch of the ocean floor. This is just imaging hardware and software we’re talking about here, so it’s entirely possible something was missed. You could make the same comparison for outer space, as we’ve only ever explored the local solar system. Sure, the Hubble telescope and similar equipment can give us a glimpse of faraway locations, but that’s all it is a quick glimpse. We don’t actually know what’s out there, just like we don’t know everything that’s beneath the ocean’s surface.

It does beg the question: Why do we know more about space, an alien plane, than we do about our planet, or more specifically, the vast ocean that inhabits the Earth with us?

Why Don’t We Explore the Ocean?

For starters, there’s a lot of it to cover, and even though we’ve had the time and likely resources to do so, it would be incredibly expensive. Only about 0.05 percent of the ocean has been mapped with the highest resolution of sonar imaging. Why don’t we just do the rest?

Because it’s not that simple. Even more difficult to understand is the fact that we can’t get down there to explore with our eyes. In some places, the pressure of the ocean and gravity equals that of 50 jumbo jets resting right on top of you. And that’s before you even consider the fact that at great depths there is absolutely no visibility. It’s not just a matter of presenting a light source; it’s also about how far said light can stretch, which at the bottom of the ocean is not very far.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not happening. Already scientists and researchers are planning to map and explore the far reaches of the ocean floor. Thanks to modern technology the process can be much more efficient and accurate. We may even be able to locate valuable resources that can be retrieved for use back on the surface, such as copper, nickel, and cobalt.

Why Have We Explored Space So Much?

Well, one of the primary reasons space exploration has been such a large part of history is that telescopes like the Hubble telescope are able to see distances of 13 billion lightyears. Although many scientists do believe that there’s much more of the universe to explore, comparing 13 billion lightyears to the ocean only being seven miles deep underscores how much technology has developed for space exploration rather than ocean exploration.

Part of this could also be attributed to history. The initial push to discover space began between the U.S. and Soviets in the 1950s and 60s. The Soviets first launched Sputnik into space, and President Kennedy wanted to restore U.S. confidence by showing that they could not only match the Soviets, but also surpass them, leading to massive investments in our space program.

Space also seems to hold a mystical glamor that the ocean doesn’t have for us. Perhaps it’s because there have been far more television shows and movies about space travel and life on other planets than their have been about ocean living.

Where is Ocean Exploration Headed?

With developing technologies, we have more possibilities for ocean exploration than ever. In fact, we could map the entire ocean floor for three billion dollars, which is the average cost of a Mars mission. The key is dedicating the time and resources.

Exploration missions like James Cameron’s dive to the Marianas Trench must be higher on our priority list to really make new discoveries. Drones are also helping us make headway into ocean exploration, as they have in space. Other technology for further exploration includes fluorescence-detecting cameras to find glowing fish, swarms of mini robots finding water information and lost objects or dangers to the ocean and soft grippers for gently collecting ocean specimen.

It will, however, take quite a bit of time, dedication, and resources to really understand the oceans that make up a major part of our world. More importantly, it will take a lot of scientists and researchers working together to achieve one common goal, but it may be possible that one day we will no longer have explored more of space than of the ocean.

Have your own ideas, comments, or questions to share on conservation and environmental awareness? Contact me to learn more about how you can help make the world a better place.

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