Friday Headlines, February 13, 2015
THE LATEST IN THE GEOSCIENCES
Grass and dinosaurs and LSD, oh my!
The core of the core of the core.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Lots of cool things here.
First – Amber! What an awesome way to preserve a fossil. And it’s pristine! Beautiful! Totally identifiable.
Second – 100 million year old grass. That’s old! That means grass was around with dinosaurs and shared the planet for something like 35 million years before the dinosaurs went extinct.
Third – Fungus. There’s fungus on the grass that looks strikingly like modern ergot. Ergot is a parasite on modern grasses, and is an important contributor to the hallucinogenic effects of LSD.
So imagine this: The possibility that some massive, grazing dinosaur might have consumed some of this and wound up, well, going on a fun ‘trip.’
It feels a little like the movie Inception. The core of the Earth is composed mostly of nickel and iron. It’s divided into two parts: the inner core and the outer core.
The inner core is solid. The outer core is liquid – molten metal from whence originates the Earth’s magnetic field.
Now we’ve learned that the solid inner core has, itself, an inner part. Let’s call it the inner inner core, because we can.
The outer inner core has crystals of iron and nickel that are aligned with the Earth’s rotation axis, so North-South. The crystals of the inner inner core are aligned perpendicular to this, approximately 90 degrees East and West longitude.
How do we know this?
Scientists listened to the ‘hum’ of earthquake vibrations well after the earthquakes have passed, in much the same way that one can hear a bell humming even a long time after it was struck. Specialized seismometers, computers, and software are necessary to isolate the after-hum from other vibrations passing through the Earth.
What does it mean?
Scientists aren’t sure yet why there is this difference. It’s likely that the crystal structure of the inner inner core is different than that of the outer inner core. The reasons why that might be the case are likely to fill the pages of many books and journals.
Because tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. And scientists can express love, too.
Fifteen years ago, I said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ with science, too. That’s why I call Valentine’s Day Doctoral Day.