Monday, February 16, 2009

Ten Not-So-Trivial Facts About Earth

"Ten things you don't know about the Earth"
Discover, Blogs / Bad Astronomy (September 8, 2008)

"Look up, look down, look out, look around.

"— Yes, 'It Can Happen'

"Good advice from the 70s progressive band. Look around you. Unless you’re one of the Apollo astronauts, you've lived your entire life within a few hundred kilometers of the surface of the Earth. There's a whole planet beneath your feet, 6.6 sextillion tons of it, one trillion cubic kilometers of it. But how well do you know it?..."

The title should have read "Ten things you may not know about the Earth" - but that may be quibbling. Despite the arrogant, or presumptive, or poorly-thought-out title, this is a pretty good post.

It starts with "1) The Earth is smoother than a billiard ball." After seeing how Earth shapes up next to a billiard ball, and some weighty observations (pun - you'll have to read the post to see what I mean), the author winds up with "10) Destroying the Earth is hard."

Here, he makes another debatable assertion: " turns out the phrase 'destroying the Earth' is a bit misleading. I actually write about wiping out life, which is easy...." Maybe because he wants you to buy his book, the author doesn't define what he means by "life," and "easy."

If by "life," he means creatures like koala bears, and his notion of "easy" is something like dropping a city-size meteor on Earth: he's right.

If by "life," he means those organisms that live about 1.6 kilometers below the floor of the ocean, his idea of "easy" has to be a bit more heavy-duty. There are ways that the first few kilometers of Earth could get irradiated - although frying the entire surface that way would be tricky. The same goes for an event that would raise Earth's temperature significantly at that depth.

I'll cut the author some slack, though. He's just written a book, and 'the end of life on Earth' is an idea that grabs the imagination. Besides, right now quite a few people tend to think of Mother Nature as a delicate thing: not the old lady who's been through asteroid and comet impacts, subcontinent-size volcanic eruptions, and probably a nearby supernova or two.

People might have trouble living through some of those disasters - and the next Olympics would almost certainly have to be postponed indefinitely. But life seems to be as hard to eradicate as rats and cockroaches.

Finally, as I wrote earlier, this is a pretty good post: and you may discover something you didn't know before.

Life 1.6 kilometers down? Yes!

"Deep Under the Ocean: Life" (June 2, 2008).

It's a fascinating, exciting, world that we live in.


Brigid said...

You gotta watch out for those little old ladies. They're tough!

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...



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