Transcriber: Amanda Chu
So I'm four years old.
It's the early 1960s.
And I'm looking at a globe of the Earth,
and I can clearly see
that Africa and
South America fit together.
It's like a picture puzzle
with only two pieces,
or a broken cookie.
Obviously, they had to have fit together
once upon a time.
Of course I wasn't
the first person to notice that.
Mapmakers and others
had been seeing it for hundreds of years.
But if I had brought my observations
to a mainstream geologist
of the early 1960s,
they would have told me
that it was just a coincidence,
for there was no way known to science
that something as
substantial as a continent
could possibly move around on the Earth.
That was just crazy talk.
But jump forward to the end of the '60s.
on both sides of the Atlantic
and searching the deep-sea
trench in the middle
had found the evidence,
and developed the understanding
of how in fact the lighter
could move around
on the heavier material below,
and the science of plate tectonics
is now a key part
of how we understand our world.
So this just shows how science changes -
sometimes in one childhood,
other times over decades and years,
slowly and painfully.
Now, jump ahead - fast-forward
to about 10 years ago.
Now I've got the internet,
where any burning question
can be answered with a quick search.
And I'm looking at a website
with some scientific content,
but it's on the fringe of science.
It calls into question
some of the commonly accepted science.
Now, I'm not going to tell you
what the website is just yet,
because it's in that Twilight Zone
where respectable scientists don't go.
But we'll get there eventually,
so trust me.
But the question that this website
brings to my mind is this:
Is it possible to orbit the Earth
in a way that creates
a single, circular ground path
on the ground below?
Like, if I took a rubber band
and stretched it around the globe,
could my satellite go around
and just stay over that band all the time?
Now, this is not an easy thing to explain.
But I do an internet search,
and I can't find an answer.
And I go to a friend
who is a genuine rocket scientist,
and I put it to him,
and he thinks for a moment, he goes,
“Sure! Orbit over the equator!”
Okay, yeah, that's a valid answer.
If I'm going over the equator
and the Earth is turning,
it doesn't matter
what speed anyone's going,
I'm always going to stay
right over the equator.
But I want my rubber band
at other angles.
I need to have that.
And for that, he can't give me an answer,
and I can't find a clear answer
on the internet.
How strange is that?
Well, here's an image
that will help begin to understand
why this is a hard problem.
We're all familiar with this.
We're citizens of the Space Age.
The International Space Station,
NASA Mission Control,
we go over a path again and again.
It's like wrapping a ball of string.
The International Space Station
circles every 90 minutes,
the Earth turns every 24 hours -
you get this kind of pattern.
So, what am I going to have to learn
to figure that out?
Well, we have to go a little bit deeper.
I promise, no math.
But there are three key things
you need to know about Earth orbits
that will inform the ground path
you make below.
First thing is your altitude.
The ISS orbits around 400 km
above the Earth.
On this globe, that's like
a quarter of an inch,
seven millimeters, above the globe.
The second thing is the inclination
of your orbit to the equator.
The ISS is at 51 degrees,
meaning it goes over most of the land
surface of the Earth, eventually,
as it goes around and around.
The third thing
is the shape of your orbit.
Now, the shape can be
anything from round,
like the ISS,
out to very, very elliptical,
long and narrow.
But the key thing about an ellipse
is that the center of the Earth
has to be at one of the
focus points of the ellipse.
And this is where the math
gets tricky, okay?
Thanks to Johannes Kepler in the 1600s,
we can calculate exactly your speed
and position on that ellipse
for any given shape.
Alright. Now we've got all this loaded up.
The altitude, the inclination,
the shape of the ellipse, the speed -
my brain is whirling.
How am I ever
going to find an answer?
And if there's not an answer,
how am I going to prove that
to myself too,
to know that my quest is fruitless.
So I get on the phone to a friend
who's a genuine aerospace
and he points out
that there's only a certain number
of categories of Earth orbits.
So I start looking
through these categories,
and there's two of them
that jump out at me
as really interesting.
The first one is Geostationary, right?
Geostationary: this is an orbit
that has a circular shape,
that puts it out about here -
way far from the Earth.
And the key thing is that its altitude
makes it go around the Earth
in the same time
it takes the Earth to turn!
This means you stay
over the same spot all the time,
and this makes it easy
for the television
satellite dish installer
to come to your house
and point it at one spot in the sky
because the satellite
is always right there.
Even at night when the stars
and the moon are sliding past,
the satellite is right there.
But now the weird thing is
the satellite has a ground path
that's not a rubber band at all.
It's a single dot!
So in a way, this is like the opposite
of what I'm looking for, right?
The second orbit that looked
really interesting is called "molniya."
"Molniya" is the Russian word
This was developed by the Soviet Union
in the early days of the Space Age.
The molniya orbit is highly inclined,
and very elongated.
And it's timed
so that it goes around the Earth
in exactly half a day.
And that gives it this amazing U-shape,
the double-U shape,
that goes around the Earth.
The molina satellite hangs out high
over one side of the world,
say North America -
and perhaps it's taking pictures
or listening to radio -
then it comes zipping in
around the Earth
and comes back out,
and then hangs out again,
but half a day has gone by,
so now it's over the
other side of the planet,
and it can download
what it learned on the other side.
So these two orbits give me an idea.
What if I was in an orbit
that took exactly two days
to go around the Earth?
Okay? So I'd start out above the Earth
at some arbitrary point.
One day later, I'm on the other side.
And one day's gone by,
the Earth has turned completely,
so I'm also over the opposite side
of the Earth from where I started.
Another day goes by,
I’m back to where I started in my orbit,
the Earth has turned again,
I'm back over the same spot!
That seems promising, right?
I'm getting really obsessed
with this search!
I get on the phone to the friend
who's the aerospace mathematician guy,
and he's really like,
“Okay! Crazy quest. Good.
Good luck with that!"
"Tell you what. There's a really
great website called 'STK.'
You should go check it out
because it will show you
any orbit you want.”
Okay, I go to STK,
I do my basic calculations,
I put in my numbers,
and I push the button.
And there it is right before my eyes!
A single ground-path,
circular Earth orbit!
I'm stunned that it was actually there!
Now I'm thinking,
"I can't be the first person
to notice this!
I'm not a rocket scientist."
So I get on the phone to another friend
who works for big aerospace companies
designing Earth orbit missions.
And he sounds a little bit skeptical,
but he fires up his copy of STK.
He asks for my numbers, he puts them in,
and boom! - he gets the same result!
And he says: "You know,
I've never seen this before.
You should write this up.
Put it in an aerospace journal."
Well, so it's a new thing, right?
And new things need names,
so I'm thinking the key property of this
is that it's a two-day orbit,
so I'm going to call it a "Two-day Orbit,"
or "2DO" for short,
to fit the pattern of all the other
that aerospace people like to use.
So now that I've got a name for it,
I want to get back to my original quest.
But for a brain like mine,
and maybe like yours,
you immediately think,
"What about a three-day orbit?
Or a four-day orbit?
What're their ground paths like?"
And yeah, it's all there,
it's really interesting! I had to look!
So I go back to my original search.
And I'm fine-tuning the orbit -
a 31-degree inclination,
set over a certain point on the Earth.
And I find it has a number of really
interesting and unusual properties.
One: The orbit stays
outside of the Van Allen Belts,
the radiation belts that are
out around here around the Earth.
And if you're an astronaut,
you don't want to hang out in there,
you can fly through it.
If you are electronics,
you don't want to be in there either.
So this orbit is outside of that.
It's also outside of the Earth's
magnetic field all the time,
so the magnetic field is inside of you.
It's always in the sun!
It's an orbit that never crosses into
the Earth's shadow that's streaming away,
even at the northern solstice -
the most extreme tilt
of the Northern Hemisphere.
So, what do we do with an orbit like this?
Well, since we're always in the sun,
how about make a super power satellite
where we can collect solar energy
and beam it down to a series of sites
on the ground below, giving them power,
charging them up every two days
as we come back around?
Or maybe we could put up
a whole series of mirrors dancing around,
and we could shine light
down onto the Earth,
into dark places that need more light.
Or maybe there's other uses.
All right ...
But what about that website
that got this all started?
That fringe one
that respectable scientists
may not want to venture into?
Well, it was this.
A researcher named Jim Alison noticed
that a significant number
of ancient sites around the world -
some of the oldest,
most mysterious structures -
all line up on a single circle
around the Earth -
a straight line.
When you put a two-day orbit
over this exact path,
it's not an exact circle,
it's got slightly
a potato-chip shape to it,
but it lines up pretty closely.
Let's hop aboard a Two-day Orbit satellite
and take a tour
of all these ancient sites.
We start over the most famous
megalithic site -
the Great Pyramids,
with their mysterious chambers,
hidden tunnels, and of course the Sphinx.
A little bit later, we cross the Sahara,
we cross the Atlantic Ocean,
we cross over the Amazon basin,
and we come to Machu Picchu,
with its mysterious stone structures
and all the other
ancient sites around Cusco.
Then we fly past the Plain of Nazca,
with its mysterious etched drawings
on the floor of the desert.
Of course we're 60,000 kilometers up,
so if we want to see those shapes
we’ve got to have a pretty good telescope.
We keep going, across the Pacific.
4,000 km - we cross directly
over Easter Island,
with its gigantic heads,
the "moai" figures -
actually they're full figures
that are buried down into the ground.
Continuing on across the Pacific,
we come back up over the equator.
We fly up over Cambodia
and the ancient temples
of Preah Vihear and Angkor Wat.
Continuing on up into Asia,
we fly over India to Pakistan,
to the site of Mohenjo-daro,
one of the oldest
Western civilization locations,
with its script that has
still not been decoded,
because it's so old and remote from us.
We continue on over the Middle East,
and the great buildings at Ur.
And then we continue on over Petra,
with its amazing stone structures,
dug into the walls.
And then it brings us back
to the Great Pyramids,
right where we started.
So obviously, not all ancient sites
are on this circle.
Stonehenge, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem,
all sorts of sites in China, Africa, Asia,
But the sites that are on the circle
have a lot of things in common.
They have some of the largest stonework
humans have ever done,
huge blocks that we wouldn't
realistically try to move today.
The style of the stonework
is precisely cut.
They fit together. You cannot fit a knife
blade in between some of these rocks.
And then look at
Easter Island in specific.
The big moai figures
get most of the attention -
there's hundreds of them.
But there are also walls,
walls that appear to be
some of the oldest things
on Easter Island made by humans.
The walls are made of basalt -
an extremely hard stone.
They match the style
of construction at Machu Picchu,
4,000 km away across the Pacific,
also made of basalt.
Then there is these mysterious
knobs and scoops:
Many on the pyramids;
other, Egyptian sites;
many all over South America.
What are those knobs for?
How were they made?
Why did they go to the effort
of putting that in?
We don't know!
The scooping, it looks like
it was mashed potatoes
and somebody came along with a trowel
and just scooped out the rock.
We don't know!
Then there is the precision stonework -
perfectly flat surfaces!
Things that you would
take to a machine shop
and they would grind with diamond.
We can't figure out
how this could have been done
with bronze or iron tools.
OK. Want to get a little bit weirder?
There are cultures around the world
that have the "bird man," the "fish man."
Asia's got them. South America’s got them.
And they have this other feature:
"The handbag of the gods."
Why? How? All around the world.
The handbag of the gods
is also found in India, in Indonesia,
and most recently,
at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey,
which has been buried
for 10,000 years at least.
Which means the handbag
has been around for at least that time.
It wasn't added by people later on.
Okay. Now I'm not here to invoke
ancient astronauts or space aliens.
To me that doesn't answer anything.
It's like putting a bumper sticker on it,
but I want to read the book!
Where did all this come from?
Who created this?
I don't want to take anything away
from the ancient peoples
who did this work.
I want to know more about them.
I want to know how they did it,
when they did it,
and I want to give them full credit
for their great work!
So what we do?
Well, we get out our science toolkit.
First thing: What's our theory?
Well, researchers who look into this
question our traditional story
of the ancient human past,
where we go from a long period
up to settling down and doing agriculture,
and eventually moving into city-states.
Researchers suspect -
and there is good evidence for -
13,000 years ago there was a more
advanced form of human civilization.
How advanced is hard to say,
but we know they could do stuff
with stone that we really cannot.
And then what happened?
Suddenly there was a catastrophe!
Something terrible happened -
the oceans rose, temperatures dropped,
populations were wiped out,
cities were abandoned.
Time goes by;
We get into hunter-gatherer mode.
We get into agriculture, city-states.
Okay. So it's a story, right?
Is it a good story? Maybe. Maybe not.
But what does the science tell us?
Well, to begin with,
we have great data showing the oceans
were 100 meters lower 15,000 years ago.
100 meters! 330 feet!
That means the ancient
coastlines and islands
are now completely submerged.
Secondly: Greenland ice cores
and Mid-Atlantic sediment samples
show us that there was
a sudden drop in temperature,
and it lasted for a thousand years or so,
around the world.
Thirdly: The male DNA has clues.
Around the world the diversity
of the male DNA drops precipitously,
again, around 13,000 years ago.
It wasn't just here or there,
it was around the world.
A lot of men were not passing on their DNA
to future generations.
and then it began to recover.
So what could have happened
that could explain all of these things?
Well, we have evidence
that something hit North America -
a comet or a meteorite.
It left very distinctive particles
all over the hemisphere.
It set a lot of stuff on fire
because there's very
distinctive soot and ash particles
found right there as well.
We have seen half a million
ranging from New Jersey
all the way down to Alabama,
like a giant cosmic
shotgun blast hit our planet!
So there's hard work to be done.
We need more.
We need more data, more evidence.
We need to begin thinking
and engineering them into science fact!
We need to see how we can
do what we did with the airplane,
where we can now fly better than any bird,
or the submarine,
where we can swim better than any fish,
or now, rockets that can fly into space
and come back and land on Earth,
and be reused -
unlike any animal ever!
Check out this map -
the light blue
shows the continental shelf.
Most of that area was land
15,000 years ago.
What might be out there?
We need to make a bunch of cheap drones
with some kind of technology on board
that we can send swimming
out under the oceans,
looking for ancient sites,
roadways, seabed relics
that we've overlooked
for thousands of years.
Or what about these big rocks
that have been sitting next to each other
for an unknown amount of time?
Is there some technique we can develop
that will let us know
how long they've been sitting there?
Have cosmic rays been
zipping through them,
making little traces that we could read
and count up and tell us
precisely how old they are?
Or what about surfaces?
We make a surface on a stone,
What begins to change?
Does something in the atmosphere
sink into the stone?
Does something in the stone
come out over time
at a measured rate
that we can also count up
and figure out a time
on these amazing ancient artifacts?
Or there's this big pile
of stones in Egypt.
A million stones piled up.
What are they doing
to the ground underneath?
Have they been blocking it
from something from the sun?
Can we compare what's underneath
the pyramids to what's over here,
not covered up for that period of time?
Because the Egyptian records don't really
tell us when the pyramids were built.
We're going to have to find that out!
Sometimes I feel like
I'm still that four-year-old,
looking at the Earth,
trying to figure out
how the pieces fit together.
One of my heroes, Carl Sagan,
reminds us that "Extraordinary claims
require extraordinary evidence."
To that I would add
that extraordinary evidence
deserves extraordinary investigation!
And I'm quite certain
that if we use our science
and our human best thinking abilities,
and we do the hard work
and spend the money, find the answers,
we're gonna learn more
about who we are,
where we came from,
and where we might be able to go.
And I think building
the best possible future
is doable if we know
what happened in our past.
So let's do it!