- CryoSat-2 Data: New Analysis and Previously Undiscovered Mountains
- NASA's GRAIL Mission: Mapping the Moon
- Mangalyaan in Mars Orbit: Kudos, India
Still here? Thanks!
An updated map of Earth's ocean floor includes features under the Gulf of Mexico and eastern Atlantic that are over 100,000,000 years old.
I'd better explain why I think Earth is more than 6,018 years old.
I'm a Christian: specifically, a Catholic.
As a Catholic, I must believe that God created, and is creating, a good and ordered physical world. I also must believe that this universe is changing, in a state of journeying toward an ultimate perfection. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 282-308)
I also must believe that God is infinite and eternal, almighty and ineffable: beyond our power to describe or understand. (Catechism, 202, 230)
But I don't have to believe that Earth is flat: despite what Job 9:6-7 says.
I explained why I think Earth is not flat last week. Basically, I take Sacred Scripture very seriously: but I am also quite sure that it was not written from a contemporary Western viewpoint. (October 3, 2014)
A week before that, I briefly outlined how our understanding of the universe has changed: from Anaximander's celestial spheres to identifying "nebulae" like the M81 as other "island universes." (September 26, 2014)
I might not have decided to make a universe on this scale: but God's God, I'm not, and I'm okay with that.
Now: about what we've learned during the last few centuries, about how old Earth is —
An Angla-Éireannach Calvinist, James Ussher, after careful study of the Old Testament, decided that creation started on the nightfall preceding October 23, 4004 BC. He published his chronology in 1654: and at the time, it was a pretty good bit of academic work.
In 1778 Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon published his "Les époques de la nature," saying that Earth was about 75,000 years old. He'd measured measuring how fast iron cooled in his laboratory.
That was more than ten times older than Ussher's age for Earth.
The Sorbonne condemned Leclerk's work. I don't know whether they liked Ussher's Bible study better, thought because their professional reputations were threatened, or had some other reason.
As it turns Leclerc was wrong, too: by several orders of magnitude. We've since learned that Earth formed about 4,540,000,000 years ago.
Multiple lines of evidence, including radiometric age dating of meteoric material and the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples, and meteoric material, show that Earth and the other Solar planets have been here for billions of years.
I think scientists will keep on refining those numbers: but I'm also sure that today's estimates are reasonably accurate.
Earth, by the way, is much younger than the universe. Based on data about cosmic background radiation and observations of distant galaxies, this universe got started 13,798,000,000 years ago. That, apparently, is when a point of infinite temperature and density exploded. (March 21, 2014)
The scale of God's creation still upsets some folks, but I'm not one of them. (September 19, 2014)
Studying this immense and ancient creation honestly and methodically cannot interfere with an informed faith, because "the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God." (Catechism, 159)
Some Catholics insist that a 17th century Calvinist must be right.
Others — well, Dominican friar and Catholic bishop Albertus Magnus, born around 1200, is now patron saint of scientists, students, medical technicians, philosophers, and the natural sciences. (February 23, 2014)
Catholic bishop and scientist Nicolas Steno helped launch paleontology as a science in 1669. (July 15, 2014)
And the Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosted a "Study Week on Astrobiology" in November of 2009. (October 2, 2011)
Faith and reason, science and religion, get along fine: or should. (Catechism, 39, 159, 286)
Learning about God's universe, wondering how things began and where we're headed, is part of being human.It's what we're supposed to do. (Catechism, 282-289, 2293)
Anyway, like Psalms 115:3 says, "...whatever God wills is done." I can accept what we're learning about God's creation as an invitation to "even greater admiration." (Catechism, 283)
Or I could insist that the Almighty is limited to a Western literalist's notion of what ancient Mesopotamian poetic imagery 'really' means. That doesn't make sense. Not to me, anyway. (September 21, 2014)
(From Ron Blakey, NAU Geology, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Earth in the Middle Jurassic, roughly 5,000,000 years after Pangea started breaking up.)
I remember the excitement when the first deep-ocean maps showing mid-ocean ridges came out, like National Geographic's 1967 Indian Ocean Floor map. A few years later, I switched my minor from geology to speech because the Geology department didn't 'believe in' continental drift, and that's another topic.
Or maybe not so much.
Scientists have learned quite a bit about Earth's past since my youth. They'll almost certainly learn more from studying these newly-discovered structures on the ocean floor: those who keep up with research in their field, at least.
(From David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California (UC) San Diego; via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
("A marine gravity model of the North Atlantic with red dots showing the locations of earthquakes above 5.5 magnitude, highlighting the present-day location of the seafloor, with spreading ridges and transform faults...."
"Global seafloor map reveals stunning details of Earth's depths"We get more precise seafloor maps by using sonar: scanning the bottom with acoustic beams. So far, survey ships using sonar made detailed charts of about 10 percent of Earth's ocean bottom.
Will Dunham, Reuters (October 3, 2014)
"Scientists have devised a new map of the Earth's seafloor using satellite data, revealing massive underwater scars and thousands of previously uncharted sea mountains residing in some of the deepest, most remote reaches of the world's oceans.
"The researchers said on Thursday they used gravity measurements of the seafloor from radar equipment aboard the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite and NASA's Jason-1 satellite to capture underwater geological features in unprecedented detail.
" 'The pull of gravity reflects the topography and tectonics of the seafloor,' said David Sandwell, a geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego who led the study...."
The nice thing about tech like CryoSat-2 is that scientists can cover more ground, or water in this case: faster, and with less expense.
The new Scripps Institution of Oceanography map shows previously undiscovered surface and sub-surface features, including a long-inactive mid-ocean ridge in the Gulf of Mexico; and another in the South Atlantic, west of Angola.
Interestingly, the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 was designed to measure the thickness of polar ice caps. Learning more about the ocean floor was a bonus.
(From David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; used w/o permission.)
("Indian Ocean Quakes and Triple Junction
"A marine gravity model of the Central Indian Ocean. Red dots show locations of earthquakes with magnitude above 5.5 and highlight the present-day location of the seafloor spreading ridges and transform faults. The image is centered at the Indian Ocean Triple Junction where three major tectonic plates meet (African plate – left; Indo-Australian plate – right; Antarctic plate bottom. This region of the Indian Ocean is very poorly charted and includes the crash site of the Malaysian aircraft that was lost March 8, 2014."
(David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego))
(From D. Sandwell/Scripps Institution of Oceanography, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Gulf of Mexico: The jagged outline of an extinct spreading ridge is discernable"
"New Map Exposes Previously Unseen Details of Seafloor"Plate tectonics theory is fairly new. Bear with me, please. The next two paragraphs actually belong in this post.
Mario Aguilera, Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego (October 2, 2014)
"Mysteries of the deep come alive as satellite data bring thousands of uncharted sea mountains and new clues about deep ocean structures into focus
"Accessing two previously untapped streams of satellite data, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and their colleagues have created a new map of the world’s seafloor, creating a much more vivid picture of the structures that make up the deepest, least-explored parts of the ocean....
"...'The kinds of things you can see very clearly now are abyssal hills, which are the most common land form on the planet,' said David Sandwell, lead scientist of the paper and a geophysics professor in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at Scripps.
"The authors of the study say the map provides a new window into the tectonics of the deep oceans. Previously unseen features in the map include newly exposed continental connections across South America and Africa, and new evidence for seafloor spreading ridges at the Gulf of Mexico that were active 150 million years ago and are now buried by mile-thick layers of sediment...."
During the first part of the 20th century, paleontologists and geologists knew that Lystrosaurus, a mammal-like critter that lived about 250,000,000 years ago, left fossils in Antarctica, India, and South Africa. Since Lystrosaurs couldn't swim, scientists realized that the animals had spread to these areas on land.
Alfred Wegener, a meteorologist, described how continental drift could explain Lystrosaurus living on three separate continents. That was in 1912 and 1915. Most other scientists couldn't imagine how continents could move — so they figured that whacking great land bridges had connected the continents.
Around the middle of the 20th century, scientists started using new tech to study the ocean floor: and learned that magma from deep within Earth comes up at mid-ocean ridges, forming new seafloor.
Plate tectonics theory keeps getting updated and revised: hardly surprising, considering how new it is.
But the basic idea, that Earth's continents are moving: that's now an observed phenomenon.
(From Scripps Institution of Oceanography, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("The new gravity data gives us our clearest view yet of the shape of the ocean floor"
Some of what we learn from studying the seafloor will tell us more about what's happened on Earth: particularly since the most recent continent breakup, some 175,000,000 years ago.
I'm pretty sure that most 'pure science' has practical applications: given time. Sometimes, given a lot of time. It took about two millennia for the aeolipiles of Vitruvius and Hero of Alexandria to make the transition from laboratory curiosities to steam engines and spaceship motors.
We won't have to wait that long for obviously practical benefits from these improved maps.
Locating submerged features will help prevent accidents like MV Muirfield's 1973 encounter with a seamount. The cargo ship struck something very solid in what charts said was 5,000 meters, 16,404 feet of open ocean. Ten years later, the HMAS Moresby, a Royal Australian Navy survey ship, returned to that part of the Indian Ocean, making a detailed chart of what's now called the Muirfield Seamount.
In 2005, the USS San Francisco (SSN-711) ran into another uncharted seamount, killing one seaman.
Only five people died in 1958 when an unreasonably huge wave swept up Lituya Bay. An earthquake had dumped 30,000,000 cubic meters of rock into the bay. BBC News is probably right about potential threats of a megatsunami in the Atlantic being "overhyped."
On the other hand, something dreadful happened around 1600 BC: wiping out the Minoan civilization. It probably had something to do with an island exploding in that part of the world, though, not a collapsing seamount. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 20, 2012))
With so many of Earth's major cities at sea level, knowing more about what's happening in and under the ocean could save millions of lives. My opinion.
(From NASA/Colorado School of Mines, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"The Moon as we see it (L), in terms of height variation (C), and from surface gravity variations (R)"
"Moon's hidden valley system revealed"Rifts happen when the crust gets stretched. Earth's mid-ocean ridges, Valles Marineris on Mars, and are examples. The Baltis Vallis on Mars may be a rift, too: or something else, maybe a big lava channel.
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (October 1, 2014)
"Scientists have identified a huge rectangular feature on the Moon that is buried just below the surface.
"The 2,500km-wide structure is believed to be the remains of old rift valleys that later became filled with lava.
"Centred on the Moon's Procellarum region, the feature is really only evident in gravity maps acquired by Nasa's Grail mission in 2012.
"But knowing now of its existence, it is possible to trace the giant rectangle's subtle outline even in ordinary photos.
"Mare Frigoris, for example, a long-recognised dark stripe on the lunar surface, is evidently an edge to the ancient rift system...."
The Moon's straight rilles are probably grabens: a type of rift. But they're a very great deal smaller than what the GRAIL mission revealed.
(From NASA/Colorado School of Mines, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"The full Moon as seen from the Earth, with the Procellarum border structure superimposed in red"
"...'It's really amazing how big this feature is,' says Prof Jeffery Andrews-Hanna.The rift system's squarish shape is partly a matter of perspective — and, I think, the human knack for 'seeing' patterns that may or may not really exist. Percival Lowell's canals of Mars are a classic example. (January 24, 2014)
" 'It covers about 17% of the surface of the Moon. And if you think about that in terms relative to the size of the Earth, it covers an area equivalent to North America, Europe and Asia combined,' the Colorado School of Mines scientist told BBC News.
" 'When we first saw it in the Grail data, we were struck by how big it was, how clear it was, but also by how unexpected it was.
" 'No-one ever thought you'd see a square or a rectangle on this scale on any planet.'..."
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)
The rift system is real enough: but, although I'd like to imagine that someone carved a space alien equivalent of "Kilroy was here" on the Moon, the roughly rectangular shape is what happens when a polygon with angles of about 120 degrees gets draped over a sphere.
Here on Earth, geological cracks tend to intersect at roughly 120 degree angles: like Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway, and East Africa's rift valleys. What's on the moon is almost certainly the same sort of thing, on a much larger scale.
(From NASA/Colorado School of Mines, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("The feature stands out in this Mercator map projection of the changes in gravity "
"...So how was this extraordinary feature produced?They may be right about this rift system happening when our Moon cooled. But geologists thought Earth's mountains formed when Earth contracted, not all that long ago.
"Andrews-Hanna and colleagues note that the Procellarum region contains a lot of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium, thorium and potassium.
"On the early Moon, these would have heated the crust, which, when it cooled would have contracted....
"...The team cannot tell when the rifting occurred, but the dating of Moon rocks brought back by Apollo would suggest the valleys were filled by volcanic lavas about 3.5 billion years ago...."
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)
I think folks will know more about the 'GRAIL' rifts in the 22nd century, and will let it go at that.
Finally, before getting to India's Mars mission: maybe I'm quibbling, but the Moon's rift system looks like it has five sides, not four.
(From Abhishek N. Chinnappa, via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
"Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists and engineers cheer after India's Mars orbiter successfully entered the red planet's orbit, at their Spacecraft Control Center, in this photo taken through a glass panel, in the southern Indian city of Bangalore September 24, 2014."
"India triumphs in maiden Mars mission, sets record in space race"This is a huge success. India's Mars probe doesn't have all the bells and whistles NASA packed in its recent MAVEN mission; but Mangalyaan is now in Mars orbit, sending back useful data: including some pretty good photos.
Aditya Kalra, Reuters (September 24, 2014)
"India's low-cost mission to Mars successfully entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday, crowning what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was a 'near impossible' push to become the only country to complete the trip on its maiden attempt.
"The Mars Orbiter Mission was achieved on a budget of $74 million, almost 10 times less than the amount the U.S. space agency NASA spent on sending the Maven spacecraft to Mars.
" 'History has been created today,' said Modi, who burst into applause along with hundreds of scientists at the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) when it was announced the mission had been accomplished.
" 'We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible,' said Modi, wearing a red waistcoat at the space command center in the southern city of Bangalore.
"India joins the United States, Russia and Europe in successfully sending probes to orbit or land on Mars.
"The mission also makes India the first country in Asia to reach Mars, after an attempt by regional rival China failed to leave Earth's orbit in 2011...."
I like the various names for India's Mars orbiter: Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM); and Mangalyaan, or "Mars-craft." Mangalyaan is from Sanskrit/Hindi मंगल mangala, "Mars;" and यान yāna, "craft, vehicle." From what I've read, mangala may have a number of interesting connotations in Hindi: and that's yet another topic.
In an op-ed, Pallava Bagla pointed out that if India's government had divided the money it spent on their Mars probe among India's 1,200,000,000 citizens: each person would have a bit less than the cost of one bus ride.
Maybe that not-quite-enough-for-bus-fare would have made a difference in someone's life.
But I agree with Pallava Bagla:
"...Some have even called this mission as being a part of India's 'delusional dream' of becoming a superpower in the 21st century. There can be nothing farther from the truth. If one analyses the cost of the Mars Orbiter mission of Rs.450 crore, for Indians it works out to be about Rs.4 per person. Today, a bus ride would cost a lot more....I'm an American citizen, and am glad that folks like Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar decided to become citizens here. I'd be concerned if folks stopped coming to America.
"...ISRO's chairman Dr. K. Radhakrishnan has gone on record by saying, 'We are not racing with anybody. We are racing with ourselves. We have to race to reach the next level of excellence.'...
"...The Orbiter mission undoubtedly tells the world that India is a space power to reckon with. The more technology was denied to India, the more determined it became to master these technologies...."
(Pallava Bagla, in The Hindu)
But I sincerely hope that India, and other countries, become better places for their citizens. That's partly because I think that folks who are not desperately poor are less likely to make rash decisions: and I would rather not have a significant fraction of 1,200,000,000 folks decide that their problems are America's fault.
Anyway, my Lord was very clear about what's important:
- Love God, love my neighbor
(Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31)
- See everyone as my neighbor
(Matthew 5:43-44; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-30)
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)
But I can cheer when neighbors "reach the next level of excellence."
More of my take on the visible world:
- "Sagittarius B2, Water, and Asteroid Mining"
(October 3, 2014)
- "Scientific Discoveries: an Invitation to 'Even Greater Admiration' "
(September 21, 2014)
- "African Wildlife: During the Cretaceous"
(September 19, 2014)
- "Kepler-69c and Habitable Zones; The Great Martian Land Rush"
(October 25, 2013)
- "Chesapeake Bay Crater; the Moon's Early Years"
(September 27, 2013)
- "Exploring Ocean Tectonics from Space"
Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego
- "A faster, cheaper Mars orbiter"
Pallava Bagla, op-ed, The Hindu (September 25, 2014)
- Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)
- Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
- List of missions to Mars
- Mars Orbiter Mission
- "Structure and evolution of the lunar Procellarum region as revealed by GRAIL gravity data"
Jeffrey C. Andrews-Hanna, Jonathan Besserer, James W. Head III, Carly J. A. Howett, Walter S. Kiefer, Paul J. Lucey, Patrick J. McGovern, H. Jay Melosh, Gregory A. Neumann, Roger J. Phillips, Paul M. Schenk, David E. Smith, Sean C. Solomon, Maria T. Zuber; Nature (October 2, 2014)