There is a miles-long solitary wave trundling its way across an ocean right now. It will travel for days on end without changing its shape, before dissipating its billions of joules of energy onto some unseen shore or trench. If you had traveled with it, it would have seemed like the ocean is moving backward, and it is standing still.
Before the 1800s, so-called soliton waves were unknown to science, and they remain imperfectly understood today. They are testament not just to the weirdness of non-linear physics, which works against the linear dispersion that would normally lead to the wave’s quick dissipation; but also, simply, to the surprising ability of distant things to come near.
From motes of methane pushed by distant starlight, to words smuggled out of a silent place—our world is full of unseen currents that carry and connect.
Welcome to “Currents.”Read the Issue