Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Having now added the Villa Borghese Gardens, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the Pantheon to the list of sights I’ve seen in Rome, I can now reasonably claim as to have visited the main highlights within Italy’s capital city (the sights without await my third visit).
In reality, that means I’ve barely scratched its surface, something my parents — who’ve got months of experience in Rome — proved repeatedly by suggesting we visit what was ostensibly “some random church” that turned out to house a masterwork. Informed Romans could doubtless run circles around them, and people with genuine expertise in the subject could — on a good day — credibly say they “know” the city. But me? I’m just a tourist.
In an age when Google Earth covers the entire globe — and when we spend billions imaging our solar system’s smaller, more distant bodies — it’s easy to think that we’ve already learned most of Earth’s secrets. But as The Economist suggests, it’s likely more true that we’ve just noticed the most obvious, exceptional points on our planet, and that there’s a great deal left to explore — both things we’ve heard about but haven’t truly studied, as well as countless mysteries and discoveries of which we’re completely ignorant:
[Let’s] start with mountains. All 14 higher than 8,000 metres have been scaled; the tallest of all, Mount Everest, has been climbed more than 7,000 times. But many thousands of peaks across the world are still unconquered, including hundreds in the Himalayas rising to 6,000-7,000 metres. Only 200-odd of the 2,800 Nepalese mountains that are higher than 6,000 metres may have been climbed, guesses Glyn Hughes, the archivist of the London-based Alpine Club. The highest unscaled mountain is Gangkhar Puensum, in Bhutan, near the border with China: the authorities have closed it to climbers to respect local beliefs. Muchu Chhish, in Pakistani Kashmir, is thought to be the highest unscaled mountain that it is still possible to get a permit to climb. It defeated a British team in 2014.
Most of Antarctica is virgin and unexplored, as is — at least in all ways that matter — most of the interior of the world’s forests. And if you’re interested in going under the surface, there are even more opportunities:
Caving offers explorers opportunities to test themselves that until recently were not even known to exist. Speleology “has changed massively” in the past two decades, says Andy Eavis, widely considered the world’s foremost caver. The Krubera cave in Georgia, near the Black Sea, down which a Ukrainian team descended in 2004, is twice as deep, at more than 2,000 metres, as the Pierre St Martin cave in the French Pyrenees, which had been reckoned the deepest when Mr Eavis plumbed it in 1971. A new technique of laser scanning can measure such “chambers” far more accurately than before. Mr Eavis still marvels at the great chambers still being found in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. In 1981 he was the first to explore a cave there that is still the largest by area in the world—it could enclose the Hollywood Bowl. Now South China, among other places, is offering new opportunities for cavers. Its Miao Room, penetrated in 1989, is 852 metres long, and the largest by volume.
The world’s most extensive unexplored place is undoubtedly the seabed. At first the aim was to get to the ocean’s very bottom. In 1960 Jacques Piccard, a Swiss oceanographer, and Don Walsh, an American, touched the floor of the Mariana Trench, the ocean’s deepest point, off the Pacific island of Guam. It is nearly 11,000 metres down; for comparison, Mount Everest rises 8,848 metres. Since then only one other person, a film-maker, James Cameron, has achieved the feat, in 2012.
If the name Piccard makes you smile while reading a piece on exploration, it’s not a coincidence: indeed, Jacques Piccard came from a family of notable Swiss explorers, and his father and uncle were the namesake (with a slightly different spelling) of a fictional space captain who ended the first episode of a of certain show with this wonderful line.