Fermi’s Paradox: Radioactivity

Premise: The collision of Theia, approximately 4.4 billion years ago, resulted in the transfer of just the right amount of radioactive elements (Uranium & Thorium, mostly) to provide for the perfectly balanced Carbon cycle we enjoy today.

Theia striking primordial Earth

Theia’s impact produced, not only the Moon (which is instrumental to Earth’s stability among other things) and not only gave Earth a much larger Iron/Nickel core (resulting in an oversized and critically necessary magnetosphere), but also transferred a Goldilocks amount of Uranium and Thorium to the Earth’s core to allow the Carbon cycle to exist.

Plate tectonics and vulcanism allow for sequestered Carbon (the sediment of billions of years of photosynthetic death and deposition) to be recycled into the atmosphere providing the perfect amount of CO2, turning Earth into the greenhouse paradise we enjoy today.

It is the core of the Earth that warms our planet and not the atmospheric  greenhouse effect - Matière et Révolution
The perfect amount of radioactivity to maintain a molten mantel.

Without just the right amount of radioactivity, Earth’s core would either cool, ending the Carbon cycle (in addition to collapsing the magnetosphere) or boil the surface causing far too much vulcanism for life to exist on the planet.

This is just one more reason to accept that Earth is unique in the Universe and that Fermi’s Paradox is not a paradox at all.

We are probabilistically alone. 2^70 alone.

Fermi’s Paradox: Theia & the Volcano

Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system sits atop a tectonically dead Mars.

OlympusMons

Mars is tectonically dead as it’s not as large as Earth, has a much smaller molten core and did not get hit by a Theia-like planet early in its formation. Eventually its electro-magneto engine slowed to a near stop, its core cooled, its volcanoes froze up.

Theia was the Mars sized planet that is theorized to have hit Earth early in the history of the solar system.

Theia

When Theia hit, much of its own iron & nickel core was transferred to Earth. The remainder of that planet was strewn around Earth in a massive debris disk that eventually formed the Moon.

Moon

This rare incident is most likely the prime reason life exists on Earth.

What did this impact contribute toward our humanly existence?

Firstly, this impact added an extra large iron/nickel core which provides the massive molten dynamo which drives the Magnetosphere. The Magnetosphere protects Earth from both solar and galactic winds (radiation). Winds that would blow our atmosphere away just as they did on Mars. This extra iron/nickel core also continues to contribute to the amount of magma on which the tectonic plates float.

Secondly, this impact gave us the Moon — the largest moon in the solar system (in comparison to its host planet). And most likely a very rare sized moon for most of the galaxy/universe—especially for Goldilocks distance, rocky planets like Earth.

The existence of the Moon may actually be more important to our health and well being than we think.

The moon is like a shield that has obviously absorbed thousands of asteroid impacts in its history, many which would have struck Earth.

The Moon’s size means that it adds to tectonic flexing of Earth’s inner molten core thereby stress-heating the mantel (which is important, more on this later).

The Moon’s size also induces the tidal movement of Earth’s vast water system, a thing that probably aided the formation and rapid evolution of coastal life.

But back to the extra heavy iron/nickel core donated by Theia…

Earth’s tectonic plates and their constant movement–pulling and crushing together–contributes in multiple dimensions to the recycling of critical life sustaining elements. Vulcanism allows buried carbon, sequestered by hundreds of millions of years of plant growth and death, to be blasted back into the atmosphere as CO2. Which is a good thing. Without Carbon recycling the Earth would have froze and never emerged from its deep freeze.

Plate tectonics create mountain ranges—mineral-rich rock lifted into the sky where weathering erodes the rock and all the elements of life, allowing these minerals to drain into streams, rivers and the oceans where algae and zooplankton can consume them and thrive.

Continental plates and volcanoes keep the planet alive by recycling nutrients and green house gasses. There is the water cycle, the carbon cycle and the nutrients cycle—two of which would not happen without active tectonic plates and volcanoes.

However, this activity comes at a cost. Volcanoes and massive lava flows have destroyed millions of square kilometers of plant and animal life most likely contributing to if not causing most of the past extinction events. Even relatively small eruptions: Toba, Yellowstone, Krakatoa, Taupo, and hundreds of others cooled the planet, sometimes five to ten degrees Centigrade. A decades long volcanic winter would be no fun for a young technologically burgeoning species.

Theia and her contribution helped produce the environment where humanity could exist and thrive. But it also doomed us to live on a dangerous planet that has proven it regards life not at all.

We’re here because of Theia. A rare incident in the Cosmos. Fermi’s Paradox is not a paradox at all. We are unique in the Universe. But if Earth’s volcanoes have anything say in the matter, being unique may mean being dead.

[A note on anthropogenic CO2: Although volcanoes recycle CO2 which helps keep the planet warm, humans have been acting like their own world-wide volcano. We’ve been taking ancient, buried carbon (oil, coal and natural gas) and releasing it at impossible rates as CO2 back into the atmosphere. We are our own volcano. Will our actions result in causing another extinction event?]

Apocalyptic Scenario 7.b

Surrounding the Arctic Ocean, the continental shelf harbors thousands of gigatons of of methane in the form of methane hydrate, fire-ice. This substance, methane gas surrounded by water ice, forms when microbes eat organic sediment and release methane (like in the bowels of a bovine) which gets trapped by high water pressure and low temperature.

Were just five of these gigatons of methane to be released into the atmosphere the concentration would double methane’s current contribution of 25% of global warming.

Fifty gigatons would wreak an environmental catastrophe. Five hundred, released in a continuous stream around the Arctic would induce another PETM (Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum).

Deep beneath the East Siberian Sea stretching across the straight into the Beaufort Sea and around to the Barents Sea the earth is shifting. Tectonic forces have been pulling apart the crust, magma is seeping upward, and now the once frozen methane hydrates are thawing. Swelling. Bubbling to the surface.

Vents along the Siberian coast crack open and haphazard lightening strikes have ignited the plumes of methane. Volcanoes of flame burn hundreds of meters into the sky. What doesn’t burn, drifts high into the atmosphere where it traps the reflective solar energy. The Arctic has become a tepid bath. Greenland’s ice cap and its hundreds of glaciers steam and melt. Measurements along the Eastern Seaboard measure an inch a month sea level rise.

Life is about to experience Sauna Earth.

Bring your beer and spruce brushes because we’re gonna get sweaty.

The Day the Earth Died

I don’t often share such articles, but this one sticks out as critically important. It regards the KT moment, the end-of-days for Dino the Dinosaur. And what you’ll find is that it appears that a paleontologist has found evidence of the exact moment of the Chicxulub asteroid impact.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/08/the-day-the-dinosaurs-died

— The KT event continues to attract the interest of scientists in no small part because the ashen print it left on the planet is an existential reminder. “We wouldn’t be here talking on the phone if that meteorite hadn’t fallen,”

— The Tanis site, in short, did not span the first day of the impact: it probably recorded the first hour or so.

Fossil fuel volcano

I’m reading Light of the Stars “Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth” — Adam Frank.

I’m about halfway through and so far Frank has supplied mostly background in his attempt, I’m assuming, to present various models — based on our solar system’s mechanics and planetary variations — to determine the probability of exo-civilizations, in the galaxy and the cosmos in general.

Humanity’s existence and technological capability is dependent on a host of serendipitous “coin-flips” all landing up heads. Two of the biggest and most impactful are plate tectonics and the availability of a billion years worth of stored solar energy in the form of fossil fuel.

Plate tectonics ensures that CO2 is recycled. (CO2 is fixed from the atmosphere as sediment and rock, calcium carbonate — limestone, taken below the crust, disassociated and then re-released by volcanoes around the planet.) Without this cycle, CO2 would stay fixed, the planet would cool (as it has done in the past) (Nitrogen and Oxygen, 78% and 21%, are not efficient greenhouse gases) and that would be it for Earth.

And we all know what fossil fuels have done for humanity; taken an energy starved species and give it unlimited access to millions of years of nearly-free solar power. Without fossil fuels, humanity would have killed off all the whales (for fuel), burned down all the forests (for fuel), and never seen the explosive population growth that produced copious ideas resulting in constant technological advancement.

WorldPopulationGrowthFossilFuels

Part of his premise (I’m guessing) is to determine the impact and potential mitigation of global warming during the Anthropocene. This unusual release of extra CO2 that is warming the planet is, as far as he’s concerned, a potential solution to the Fermi Paradox: exo-civilizations might kill themselves off by their shear size and impact on their planet.

As I read Adam Frank’s setup I thought about a strange “ready for fiction” story line:

What would happen if a volcano suddenly spawned beneath one (or more) vast crude oil fields? Imagine if a Kilauea sized volcano burst up from the sands of Saudi Arabia. The heat and fire would start the oil burning. Thirty mile-high plumes of smoke would spread out for decades. Nuclear winter would descend. This is much like what a super-volcano would do, but a smaller volcano would suffice to trigger the calamity.

This is typical, don’t you think, this reading of anything and the extrapolation of a fiction story from the material? The “what if”s. I thrive on them.