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Earth Space News Science

Is the Earth Gaining Or Losing Mass? 356

Hugh Pickens writes writes "BBC recently asked physicist and Cambridge University professor Dave Ansell to draw up a balance sheet of the mass that's coming in to the earth, and the mass going out to find out if the earth is gaining or losing mass. By far the biggest contributor to the world's mass is the 40,000 tonnes of dust that is falling from space to Earth every year. 'The Earth is acting like a giant vacuum cleaner powered by gravity in space, pulling in particles of dust,' says Dr. Chris Smith. Another factor increasing the earth's mass is global warming which adds about 160 tonnes a year because as the temperature of the Earth goes up, energy is added to the system, so the mass must go up. On the minus side, at the very center of the Earth, within the inner core, there exists a sphere of uranium five mile in diameter which acts as a natural nuclear reactor so these nuclear reactions cause a loss of mass of about 16 tonnes per year." (Read more, below.)
Pickens continues: "What about launching rockets and satellites into space, like Phobos-Grunt? Smith discounts this as the mass is negligible and most of it will fall back down to Earth again anyway. But by far the biggest factor in earth's weight loss are the 95,000 tonnes of hydrogen that escape from the atmosphere every year. 'The other very light gas this is happening to is helium and there is much less of that around, so it's about 1,600 tonnes a year of helium that we lose.' Taking all the factors into account, Smith reckons the Earth is getting about 50,000 tonnes lighter a year, which is just less than half the gross weight of the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise liner that recently ran aground."
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Is the Earth Gaining Or Losing Mass?

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  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:22PM (#38907031)
    Well, warming may not make things more massive according to classical physics, but in the Theory of Relativity, all energy counts as mass. E=mc^2, it goes both ways. Warm objects are very, very slightly heavier than otherwise identical cold objects. So if our atmosphere traps the heat of the sun, that will result in a slight increase in mass. Although I doubt even a few degrees of warming will make a 160 ton difference. c^2 is a pretty big factor.
  • Re:Tards (Score:4, Interesting)

    by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:33PM (#38907223)

    You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, do you? Please try, if you can, to explain what was wrong with the statement.

    To quote a later AC post that seems to also be from you: "You can't create mass, it's a basic concept in science."

    Believe it or not, there's more to science than what you learned in grade school. If the composition of the Earth's atmosphere changes in such a way that it traps more energy from the sun, that will cause an increase in mass.

  • Wait (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:35PM (#38907261)

    So you count the 16 tonnes a year from a nuclear reaction that may or may not be there, but you ignore the effects of space rockets, some of which have payloads in the hundreds of metric tonnes? (the Saturn V can carry 45 tonnes to a Lunar Injection orbit and over twice that to LEO.) Huh, interesting.

    Also, what is this about the weight of the Costa Concordia? I want to know how many Libraries of Congress that is per year, damnit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:36PM (#38907285)

    I looked. The trend of the last 100 years involves coming out of the LIA, so it's not surprising we are still slowly warming up. Global warming is meant to be ACCELERATED warming caused by increased CO2. Starting around 1980. The last 100 years is nothing to do with it at all...

    Over the last 15 years we have had increased CO2, and DECREASED warming. Bang goes your hypothesis - it's completely dead. That fact alone is enough to kill it.

    Oh, and talking about 'warmest years on record' immediately marks you as a propaganda warmist - they are not evidence of anything. If you want to think like a scientist, try thinking about what might DISPROVE the global warming hypothesis. That's right - you'll find that NOTHING is accepted as disproof. It's not a science, it's a religion....

  • by WhiplashII ( 542766 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @04:39PM (#38907331) Homepage Journal

    Honestly, though, the state that global warming is adding 160 tons of mass to Earth is just BS. You could say that if we were talking about geological time periods, but global warming (if it exists) definitely doesn't exist for geological time periods. Ice ages last long enough to get noticed by the planet's interior, warming periods do not.

    It would take thousands to millions of years for a one degree average surface temperature change to work it's way through the entire planet. And even the worst case runaway global warming projections do not predict one degree per year. Long before the entire planet is heated by rising surface temperatures, the next ice age will hit us.

  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @05:51PM (#38908397) Journal

    If you read the linked article, it all sounds very interesting, and reasonable plausible, and even perhaps worth serious investigation. That is, until you hit first the part that sounds like a crank complaining about being ignored by mainstream science, and then the absurd notion that the fusion reaction in stars can only ignite from a running fission core (where did that fissile material come from then?), or the equally absurd notion that thermonuclear bombs are proof that stars can ignite in that way.

    That said, I'm glad that someone took the idea of a sustaining nuclear reactor seriously enough to test it.

interlard - vt., to intersperse; diversify -- Webster's New World Dictionary Of The American Language