Megalodon’s actual size, recalculated

A new study bases its calculations on more than the great white shark.

Megalodon’s actual size, recalculated

Dark megalodon tooth fossil vs. Great White teeth

  • Previous estimates of the megalodon's size were based solely on its teeth compared to the star of "Jaws."
  • The prehistoric monster is as closely related to other sharks.
  • Imagine just a dorsal fin as tall as you are.

For anyone already terrified by ferocious sharks — few of them actually are, of course — the prehistoric megalodon, Otodus megalodon, goes several steps beyond a nightmare. Not much is known about the animal that roamed the seas from 23 million to about three million years ago. The most definitive fossils are triangular teeth that are larger than a human hand, really not much from which to extrapolate a complete picture of the shark. Even so, they suggest a gargantuan predator. Have you seen "The Meg"?

Now a new, open-source study from the University of Bristol and Swansea University published in the journal Scientific Reports purports to have figured the megalodon's true dimensions, and they don't disappoint.

What’s different about this analysis

megalodon compared to a school bus

Credit: Reconstruction by Oliver E. Demuth/Scientific Reports; Sergii Tverdokhlibov/Galyna_P/Shutterstock/Big Think

Previous estimates of the megalodon's size have been based on the great white shark, which can exceed 20 feet in length — that's about half the length of an average school bus. The idea has been, essentially, that since a great white's tooth is about 2 inches long — the biggest one ever found is 2.5 inches — and most megalodon teeth seem to be in the neighborhood of six inches — the largest one found is 7.4 inches — then the megalodon must have been about three times as big as a great white. The suggestion is that if great whites can bite with two tonnes of pressure (4400 pounds), then the megalodon's bite must have been significantly more powerful.

This may not be a completely fair comparison, however, according to one of the study's authors, Catalina Pimiento of Swansea. She tells University of Bristol that "Megalodon is not a direct ancestor of the Great White but is equally related to other macropredatory sharks such as the Makos, Salmon shark and Porbeagle shark, as well as the Great white." To arrive at their measurements the researchers, "pooled detailed measurements of all five to make predictions about Megalodon."

To try and work out the proportions of the prehistoric shark based on this larger group of contemporary sharks, the researchers investigated how their bodies change as they mature. "Before we could do anything," says co-author Mike Benton, "we had to test whether these five modern sharks changed proportions as they grew up. If, for example, they had been like humans, where babies have big heads and short legs, we would have had some difficulties in projecting the adult proportions for such a huge extinct shark."

It turned out, surprisingly, that though these sharks get larger as they grow up, their body proportions don't really change much. "This means we could simply take the growth curves of the five modern forms and project the overall shape as they get larger and larger — right up to a body length of 16 meters," adds lead author Jack Cooper.

Cooper has always been, as he puts it, "mad about sharks." He's worked and dived, in a steel cage, with great whites. He enthuses, "It's that sense of danger, but also that sharks are such beautiful and well-adapted animals that makes them so attractive to study."

The megalodon’s revised measurements

shark and diver illustration

Credit: Reconstruction by Oliver E. Demuth/Scientific Reports

The study proposes the following approximate measurements for a full-grown megalodon:

  • Length: about 16 meters (52.5 feet). A full-size school bus is just 45 feet long
  • Head size: about 4.65 meters long (15.3 feet)
  • Dorsal fin: about 1.62 meters tall (5.3 feet). A person could stand on the back of a megalodon and be about as tall as the fin.
  • Tail fin: about 3.85 meters high (12.6 feet)

Let's just hope this sucker is really extinct.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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