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Earth Science

Journey To the Mantle of the Earth By 2020 262

An anonymous reader writes "A half-century after the first attempt to drill through the ocean crust into the Earth's mantle, a new campaign armed with improved technology is underway that could reach the mantle by the end of the decade, researchers say."
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Journey To the Mantle of the Earth By 2020

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  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Thursday March 24, 2011 @09:32AM (#35597586) Journal

    Jules Verne Likes This.

  • What would tend to happen is that as they drill the hole, lava starts climbing up the shaft and cooling again into solid rock. Even once they are all the way through, the lava will still quickly cool into rock as it comes onto the surface.

    Ultimately, it would amount to becoming a man-made volcano... one that would probably take several centuries before it was of any significant size, and that's assuming that it remains active for that amount of time.

  • by rgbatduke ( 1231380 ) <rgb&phy,duke,edu> on Thursday March 24, 2011 @12:12PM (#35599504) Homepage
    There is actually a very simple argument from thermodynamics and/or statistical mechanics that this will not happen. No matter what you think that we might do -- drill down to the Earth's mantle, for example, or build a super-accelerator capable of extremely energetic collisions -- Nature does it first, and does it all of the time. For example, asteroids have drilled down to the Earth's mantle in the past, and volcanoes do it in the present. Galactic Cosmic Rays with energies greater than anything we can imagine creating in an accelerator happen all of the time -- the most powerful one observed so far is (IIRC) a proton with roughly the same kinetic energy as a baseball travelling at 90 mph. People worried that the first nuclear bomb would ignite the atmosphere and turn the world into a short-lived sun, ignoring the fact that temperatures and pressures well in excess of nuclear bomb temperatures occur in both the GCR events and in asteroid impacts -- if such a thing were possible, it would have already happened long ago.

    So you are actually probably pretty safe from most things like this that we might do. Even a global thermonuclear war (which is no longer terribly likely, at least at this time, politically) is very unlikely to kill off all of humanity. Nature, however, could easily produce a pandemic killer bug without our help. Or a nearby sun (including our own) could almost casually snuff out the human race in a matter of minutes. Or a really big rock could fall and manage it. There are a few "plausible" extinction/doomsday scenarios, if by plausible you mean things that could cause it are known to happen somewhere in the Universe and could do the job, but none of them are terribly likely on a timescale of a few million years at this point in the natural evolution of our solar system and our biosphere. They are, if anything, less likely as time goes by -- a pandemic that might have been (nearly) universally fatal three hundred years ago would probably not be today, between our knowledge of the causes of disease and our ability to produce remedies and or quarantines that would very likely contain it.

    In a nutshell, we probably won't "destroy ourselves", but if we really want the human species to survive in the long run, we do need to move off of planet Earth and out into the Universe at large -- events likely to wipe out all life on Earth are rather likely to be confined to Earth or local Galactic environments until we hit deadlines like the Big Crunch or the Big Freeze. By which time, singularity or not, we'll both likely be dead...