1. Columbus and the New World

    Christopher Columbus was definitely not a candidate for membership in the Flat Earth Society. Like other European intellectuals of his time, he accepted that the earth was round. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras declared the earth round in the sixth century B.c. Aristotle reported rumors of lands to the west of Europe, and Eratosthenes computed the circumference of the world amazingly accurately centuries before Christ. The Greek geographer Strabo about

    7 B. C . wrote of attempts to circumnavigate the earth; in the first century A. D . Pliny the Elder wrote that oceans surround the whole earth and that the distance from east to west is that from India to Spain. Romans had ports in India and probably explored the South China Sea. By the tenth century Venice was trading in the spices of the Indies. Marco Polo returned to Europe in 1295 with vivid descriptions of the wealth and sophistication of India, China, and Japan (Cipangu).

    By Columbus’s time rough maps of Asia existed. In 1462 the king of Portugal is said to have offered a reward for discovery of rumored islands to the west. Columbus reportedly sent a “sphere” with his ideas of “sailing west to reach the east” to Florentine scholar Paolo Toscanelli, who responded in 1474 with a letter and a chart, which showed that by sailing 3,000 miles west from the Canary Islands one would reach the East with no obstacles to block the way. On Columbus’s travels south to Africa and north to Ireland and perhaps Iceland, he certainly heard the rumors of lands to the west.

    Explorer Thor Heyerdahl claims Columbus had more than rumors, that he knew where he would find the lands to the west because of letters to the Vatican from Norse priests in Greenland settlements four centuries earlier. He also cites a request that the king of England order his ships to stop plundering those settlements. Heyerdahl hopes to prove in a forthcoming study that Columbus was aware of the Greenland letters.

    According to the Spanish historian Antonio de Herrera, while in Portugal Columbus likely met Martin Behaim, who in 1492 produced his magnificent globe (right) the oldest existing on earth today. The globe, now in the German National Museum in Nurnberg, brought together the best geographic information of the time, with one notable exception: Behaim used Ptolemy’s circumference for the earth, which was a quarter too small, leaving as with Toscanelli’s chart no room for the yet undiscovered Western Hemisphere. Columbus set sail from the Canaries for Asia with confidence in his sources. After sailing for 33 days and approximately 3,000 miles, he understandably assumed he had reached his goal. On October 24, 1492, he wrote in his log “on the globes which I saw, and in the paintings of mappamundis, it [Japan] is in this vicinity.”

    By superimposing Columbus’s track on the Behaim globe, we find that by the 33rd day he would have reached Cipangu had the chart only been correct. It’s easy to see how he might think he had missed it and had reached one of the nameless islands of the Sea of the Indies. He thus named the people he met Indians, and quickly sailed on in search of Cathay (China).

    It seems Columbus was obsessed with sailing west for one reason he would become wealthy and powerful by finding a shorter route to the riches of Asia. And national loyalty was of no concern. Before gaining the support of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Genoese sailor sought patronage for his ideas in Portugal, England, and France. His discoveries did not bring great wealth and power. He died powerless and relatively poor the very conditions he sought to avoid by sailing west.

    On May 20, 1506, with a priest in attendance and a small group of friends and relatives at his bedside, his son Ferdinand reports that Columbus repeated the words attributed to Christ on the Cross “Unto your hands, Father, I commend my soul” and died.

    Whether he was the first European to reach the Western Hemisphere is fuel for debate, but except to set the record straight, it doesn’t really matter. It was Columbus who brought Europe to the New World, with all the consequences that resulted. As a magnifying glass collects sunbeams and focuses them into a

    white-hot heat, Columbus had collected the best geographic and cartographic knowledge of his time, and with his four voyages he immediately focused the attention of all Europe on the West, leading countless men to find the fame and fortune that

    eluded him.

    His expeditions had discovered yams, beans, maize, tobacco, and possibly syphilis. He wrote of the beauties of the land and the rivers. The massive outpouring of the Orinoco River along the Venezuela coast convinced Columbus he had also discovered “a very great continent, which until today has been unknown.”

    But the greatest irony of all Columbus died dogmatically claiming he had reached Asia. And to the chagrin of historians, no record survives of where he first set foot in the New World. Senior Associate Editor Joseph Judge believes he knows, and will tell us why in the following pages.

  2. Sharks at 2,000 Feet

    THERE’S a huge tail outside my window,” said Pisces VI pilot Tim Marzolf to shark expert Dr. Eugenie Clark. A noise like teeth chewing metal filled the cramped compartment as armored hide scraped the submersible’s skin. The craft rocked and lifted slightly, nudged from below by a creature of enormous strength.”I thought, gosh, I hope I see something,” says Dr. Clark. “Then this huge, broad head came from underneath the sub, and the green eye of a shark was looking in as if looking at me.”

    It was a startling welcome to the lightless ocean bottom 2,000 feet down, where the Pisces VI submersible had settled moments earlier on the sloping side of Bermuda’s mid-Atlantic sea-mount. It was also confirmation of the success photographer

    Emory Kristof had reported from Pisces VI a few days before, when deep-sea sharks had appeared in response to his experimental technique combining fish bait, dim green lights, and quietly lying in wait.

    Fifty years ago Dr. William Beebe initiated manned deep-sea exploration with descents off Bermuda to 3,028 feet in his bathysphere, hanging silently from a cable. Today submersibles move freely at great depths, but their lights and noise seem to frighten creatures, and op-portunities to study deep-sea animals’ behavior have been limited. Kristof’s quiet methods, which included long periods on the bottom with all lights off, drew creatures rarely observed in their habitat—such as a 14-foot sixgill shark battering at a cage of bait (left)—and created a new tech-nique for deep-sea observation.

    "The whole idea is to use the sub as a blind," Kristof explains. "Sit on the bottom, put out some bait, take a nap, and see what comes in." On his first dive, 18 minutes after Pisces Vis mechanical arm placed a can of bait in the green glow of a thallium iodide light, a 12-footlong sixgill shark swam out of the dark and made off with it, trailing a foam float (above).

    Another dive and another bait can later, the support crew welded a cage of steel rods, weighted with lead, that defied the nudges and bites heard in the sub several feet away. A video sequence shows a sixgill’s eye rolling protectively to reveal the white sclera as the shark attacks the cage Perhaps the supreme predators of the deep, ranging to at least 6,000 feet, sixgills are primitive cousins of the species with five pairs of gills that account for most sharks. They are also among the least known.

    "We’ve rarely had such an opportunity to observe their behavior," says Dr. Clark, professor of zoology at the University of Maryland, "even though we’ve had deep submersibles for many years." "It’s a frontier at last being pursued with planning and purpose," says Dr. Andreas Rech-nitzer, former coordinator of the Navy’s deep-submergence program.

    "It’s extravagant to take an expensive submersible and just sit there," Kristof explains. But bright operating lights disturb creatures like a gulper shark, whose eye has no apparent functional iris (below).

    All the elements of Kristof ‘s blind—submersibles, thallium iodide lights whose green rays penetrate farther through water than most colors, and baiting fish to cameras—have been used before. But he is the first to combine them with baiting sharks to a submersible.

    Shying from the limelight, a nine-foot-long shark turns from the bait as strobe lights on a remote camera that can be controlled with retro iphone 5 cases cast the fish’s shadow on the sloping floor (above). A thallium iodide light on Pisces VI, background, provides light for video pictures (left) of a big sixgill circling between the remote camera and the cage, brushing it, and standing nearly vertical to root beneath. Chemical light sticks help attract life to the bait; the remote camera’s strobe reflectors mirror thallium iodide light. An RCA video camera with a light sensitivity equiva lent to 1,000,000 ASA could photograph in near-total darkness. Large sharks would approach in a green glow similar in intensity to that of a full moon. When all electric lights were doused, swarms of small fish appeared, then left when lights were triggered.