Sunday, April 3, 2011

It Blew Up Mars: And Earth Could be Next?!

The Lemming has learned to take imaginative assertions with a grain or two of salt. Like the idea that a big nuclear explosion killed Mars - and WE'RE NEXT!!!!!!!

"Was There a Natural Nuclear Blast on Mars?"
John Brandon, Science, FoxNews.com (April 1, 2011)

"Ever wonder why the red planet is red?

"About 180 million years ago, a planet-shattering yet naturally occurring nuclear reaction may have wiped out everything on Mars, sending a shockwave that turned the planet into dry sand.

"Even more incredible: A natural nuclear reaction could have occurred on our own planet -- and could happen again, said Dr. John Brandenburg, a senior propulsion scientist at Orbital Technologies Corp.

" 'The Martian surface is covered with a thin layer of radioactive substances ... -- and this pattern radiates from a hot spot [on Mars],' Brandenburg told FoxNews.com.

" 'A nuclear explosion could have sent debris all around the planet,' he said. 'Maps of gamma rays on Mars show a big red spot that seems like a radiating debris pattern ... on the opposite side of the planet there is another red spot.'

"According to Brandenburg, the natural explosion, the equivalent of 1 million one-megaton hydrogen bombs, occurred in the northern Mare Acidalium region of Mars where there is a heavy concentration of radioactivity....

"...Dr. Lars Borg, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, called Brandenburg's conclusions unsurprising -- and part of known geological processes, not a nuclear reaction.

" 'We've looked at Martian meteorites for 15 years, and looked in detail at the isotopic measurements .. and not a single person out of hundreds worrying about this have thought there could have been a nuclear explosion on Mars,' he told FoxNews.com...."

"Reaction," "Explosion," and Paying Attention

The Lemming wishes - sincerely - that folks with letters in front of their name would pay attention to what they hear. And what they say.

Words mean things. Like "reaction" and "explosion:"
  • Reaction
    • A process in which one or more substances are changed into others
    • The equal and opposite force that is produced when any force is applied to a body
      (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Explosion
    • A violent release of energy caused by a chemical or nuclear reaction
    • The act of exploding or bursting
      (Princeton's WordNet)
There's more to the definition of both words, like "the noise caused by an explosion," and "a response that reveals a person's feelings or attitude." The point is that an explosion can be a reaction - but not all physical reactions involve explosions.

In the Lemming's opinion, there'd be fewer conniptions about nuclear power plants, if more folks - including the ones with letters in front of their names - would take a deep breath, and remember that not all reactions are explosions. The same, again in the Lemming's opinion, goes for journalists. And that's another topic. Topics.

"...Brandenburg -- who once worked at Livermore himself -- defended his research, arguing that defense experts he talked to off the record said they agreed there are signs of a nuclear reaction.

"Besides, there's a precedence for a natural nuclear reaction on our own planet, he noted.

"The Oklo, Gabon, region of Africa has uranium-coated sediments from a nuclear reaction that occurred 2 billion years ago.

"A massive nuclear explosion on Mars would have created huge craters on the surface, visible from orbiting telescopes like Hubble and from the Mars rovers. Brandenburg said such craters could have filled in with sand over the past 180 million years, leaving no visual cues to prove the theory...."

Again: a reaction is not necessarily an explosion.

The Lemming will get back to that African event - which really is interesting, even if it didn't completely destroy Earth's delicate (? see December 20, 2009) ecosystem.

There's quite a bit more - including mention of what happened near Tunguska in 1909.

Essentially, the data Brandenburg uses is real, but the atomic ├╝berboom he describes is - debatable. Some sort of nuclear reaction, of a non-explosive nature, is more likely. Or less-unlikely.

Back to the article.

"...Edward D. McCullough, a science and space consultant, agreed that the Mare Acidalium region of Mars does show some strange colors and terrain formations that seem unexplainable....

"...'This massive nuclear explosion on Mars seems to defy natural explanation,' said Brandenburg."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Brandenburg co-authored a book, "Dead Mars, Dying Earth" (see amazon.com), with the familiar 'and we're all gonna die' approach.

The Lemming suspects that Brandenberg and Paxson, the other author, will do pretty well with their book. Just mentioning the 'face on Mars' should guarantee a few sales.

The 'nuclear reaction on Mars' - or maybe it was an explosion? - reminded the Lemming of a place on earth where a naturally-occurring nuclear reactor's been found.

Two-Billion-Year-Old Nuclear Reactor in Africa

A sustained nuclear reaction was happening in Africa, about 2,000,000,000 years ago.

No space aliens or Lovecraft Old Ones were involved, though. At least, the Lemming thinks that's rather unlikely.

Still, it would make a good story. The Lemming will get back to that.

An open-pit uranium mine in the Gabon Republic's southeast is the site of Earth's first fission reactor - a naturally-occurring one. There was a pretty good writeup on it in Scientific American in 1976:
I found that copy on cox.net (A Natural Fission Reactor.pdf)

Cowan's article is sited in a more recent publication:
Fascinating stuff - in the Lemming's opinion.

Prehistoric Interplanetary War!

No, make that
"PREHISTORIC INTERPLANETARY WAR!!!!!!" 
All caps, too many exclamation marks, colors that make your eyes hurt? You've probably seen strident posts like that. 'Just observing the conventions of the genre,' and all that.

Moving on.

Considering what does get taken seriously, the Lemming states what should be obvious: the following is a joke. Heavy-handed, but a joke. The Lemming - is - not - serious - about this. Really.

They Killed Mars: and We're Next!

YES! Thousands of years ago, before the cataclysmic destruction of the dinosaurs, an INTERPLANETARY WAR RAGED!!! Earth and Mars locked in deadly combat, even as conservationists battle the military-industrial complex today, finally bringing Death and Destruction to All.

A Final Blow Destroyed Mars - a FULL NUCLEAR EXCHANGE, like the one THREATENING THE RED-TAILED PRAIRIE LEAFHOPPER and all hopes for Change in the 2012 election!!!

Sounds silly, the Lemming hopes. But the Lemming didn't spend 311 pages in a hardcover book, leading up to that assertion.

The glaring problem with timing that's in those two wacky paragraphs was quite intentional. "Thousands of years ago, before the dinosaurs roamed Earth" is the first, although arguably "sixty five thousand thousand" describes the time elapsed since the last of the dinosaurs. It's a correct - if cumbersome - way of expressing 65,000,000.

The purported blast on Mars is pegged in that article at "180 million years ago...."

The Gabon reactor is around 2,000,000,000 years old.

Let's see how much further back in time the Gabon reactor was, compared to the Brandenburg blast:

EntityYears before present
Alleged Mars blast180,000,000
Gabon reactor2,000,000,000

Which reminds the Lemming of this post:Actually, someone could use Brandenburg's idea as a starting point for a space epic set between the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction and that purported big kaboom on Mars.

Hey: between dinosaurs, flying saucers and some updated Lovecraft Old Ones - there's box-office potential here. And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:

Other posts, about Related posts, at
A more extensive excerpt from that FoxNews.com article:

"Was There a Natural Nuclear Blast on Mars?" John Brandon, Science, FoxNews.com (April 1, 2011)

"Ever wonder why the red planet is red?

"About 180 million years ago, a planet-shattering yet naturally occurring nuclear reaction may have wiped out everything on Mars, sending a shockwave that turned the planet into dry sand.

"Even more incredible: A natural nuclear reaction could have occurred on our own planet -- and could happen again, said Dr. John Brandenburg, a senior propulsion scientist at Orbital Technologies Corp.

" 'The Martian surface is covered with a thin layer of radioactive substances including uranium, thorium and radioactive potassium -- and this pattern radiates from a hot spot [on Mars],' Brandenburg told FoxNews.com.

" 'A nuclear explosion could have sent debris all around the planet,' he said. 'Maps of gamma rays on Mars show a big red spot that seems like a radiating debris pattern ... on the opposite side of the planet there is another red spot.'

"According to Brandenburg, the natural explosion, the equivalent of 1 million one-megaton hydrogen bombs, occurred in the northern Mare Acidalium region of Mars where there is a heavy concentration of radioactivity....

"...The radioactivity also explains why the planet looks red.

"Brandenburg said gamma ray spectrometry taken over the past few years shows spiking radiation from Xenon 129 -- an increase also seen on Earth after a nuclear reaction or a nuclear meltdown, including the one at Chernobyl in 1986 and the disaster in Japan earlier this month.

"Dr. David Beaty, Mars program science manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told FoxNews.com that he finds the idea intriguing and fascinating. But to prove the science, the agency would need to plan a mission to explore Mare Acidalium on Mars.

"And there are more pressing issues, including missions to find extraterrestrial life. 'You have to assess the importance of the question relative to the cost of answering the question,' he said.

"Still, Beaty expressed doubts, saying the geological conditions on this planet and Mars have existed for millennia -- what exists has existed for a long time, and there are few sudden changes. 'Rocks are what they are. [A natural nuclear reaction] could happen in another billion years, but it is not something to make you want to go home to your family and move to the mountains right away,' he said.

"Dr. Lars Borg, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, called Brandenburg's conclusions unsurprising -- and part of known geological processes, not a nuclear reaction."

" 'We've looked at Martian meteorites for 15 years, and looked in detail at the isotopic measurements .. and not a single person out of hundreds worrying about this have thought there could have been a nuclear explosion on Mars,' he told FoxNews.com."

"Brandenburg -- who once worked at Livermore himself -- defended his research, arguing that defense experts he talked to off the record said they agreed there are signs of a nuclear reaction.

"Besides, there's a precedence for a natural nuclear reaction on our own planet, he noted.

"The Oklo, Gabon, region of Africa has uranium-coated sediments from a nuclear reaction that occurred 2 billion years ago.

"A massive nuclear explosion on Mars would have created huge craters on the surface, visible from orbiting telescopes like Hubble and from the Mars rovers. Brandenburg said such craters could have filled in with sand over the past 180 million years, leaving no visual cues to prove the theory...."

Like I said before, there's more: Tunguska and all that.

Back to the article.

"...Edward D. McCullough, a science and space consultant, agreed that the Mare Acidalium region of Mars does show some strange colors and terrain formations that seem unexplainable.

" 'There seems to be a reasonable closure between the number of fissions required to produce the Xenon 129 enhancement and the amount of energy required to toss material to that point on Mars,' he said.

" 'This massive nuclear explosion on Mars seems to defy natural explanation,' said Brandenburg."

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