The well-known United States/Soviet Union “Space Race” overshadowed a contemporaneous Cold War competition to cut through the Earth’s crust and reach the mantle. The United States abandoned its attempts to drill through the Pacific seafloor — under 11,000 feet of ocean water — after only 5 years and 601 feet. Meanwhile, Soviet drilling tenacity outlived the Soviet Union itself, continuing 24 years from its inception in 1970 to its abandonment in 1994.
Temperatures at the bottom of the Kola hole in northwestern Russia exceeded 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The rocks there were so “plastic” that whenever the drill was withdrawn, the hole would start to close. Their eventual depth reached 7.6 miles, halfway to the mantle and deeper into the Earth’s crust than Mount Everest stands above it — but still minuscule in comparison to Earth’s 7,918-mile diameter.
I never knew any of these fascinating historical tidbits.
I also never considered the fact that although we can see into outer space, we can’t see all the way to the center of the Earth. Our planet poses a problem for scientists: we can’t see into it. The methods we have for “seeing” inside the Earth are limited; everything we know about the bowels of our own planet has been discovered remotely.
I found this information in the July/August 2014 edition of Discover Magazine, in an article by Tim Folger. How we came to understand that Earth has a solid inner core and liquid outer core (in contrast to the liquid-only core scientists had previously believed Earth to have) was particularly intriguing to me, as the discovery was made by female seismologist Inge Lehman. It was a woman who, in 1929, discovered evidence of a solid iron core. It was a woman who, in 1936, published her paper arguing for that solid inner core. And it was a woman who had to wait until 1970 to be proven correct, when instruments were finally sensitive enough to corroborate her claims.
The article goes on to discuss the uniqueness of our magnetic field, especially considering new research into the heat transfer properties of molten iron, whose heat conductivity is higher than previously thought. Recent calculations with these updated properties indicate that the outer core would have conducted too much of its initial heat to the mantle, leaving it too little heat to remain molten. And Earth needs that molten iron core in order to create our life-sustaining magnetic field. Molten iron in the core is what produces the convection currents that power our magnetic field and protect us from cosmic and solar radiation. (This phenomenon is known as a “geodynamo.”)
So where did the heat come from that keeps our outer core molten? In light of the new calculations, scientists have had to look elsewhere for sources of heat for a molten outer core. One of those heat sources is a possible collision between Earth and a Mars-size body, whose blast particles would eventually coalesce into our moon. In that case, seemingly unrelated aspects of life on Earth might not be so unrelated: our moon, a molten core that induces our magnetic field and protects our oxygenated atmosphere from being stripped away, water in the crust that allows for tectonic plates to slip past each other, thus releasing heat from inside the Earth, thereby cooling it and allowing the conduction and convection that makes the molten, moving iron core induce our magnetic field to begin with.
Coincidences? the article’s author asks. Or not? Perhaps a habitable planet requires more than we’ve previously thought necessary. How repeatable is our Earth? We now know that planets are commonplace occurrences, true. But is there now more that needs to happen to ensure life than we used to think? One interviewed scientist said he thinks “It’s a matter of chance, just how the game played out, how the dice were thrown.”
I disagree. It doesn’t matter though. I still find God in the pages of a science magazine. I don’t have to be afraid of the worldview of a science writer. God can be found in the heavens He created, whether or not any researchers believe in Him. He is still there. He is still able to be found. He is still able to be worshiped.
May we daily go forth and find God in the world He has created for us.
Photo source: Earth as seen from the Apollo 17 mission