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The Life and Death of Planet Earth

April 24, 2011

In observance of the recent passing holidays and emergence of spring my twelfth pick focuses on cycles, indeed the greatest of our globe,  The Life and Death of Planet Earth: how the new science of astrobiology charts the ultimate fate of our world.

Astrobiology is a relatively new science emerging as a culmination of astronomy, biology and paleontology and offers a predictive view into the future inevitable demise of our present planet. Yet, eschatologically speaking, what is the significance of data that does not include the walk of our species?  In other words, when our world is engulfed by the ever expanding sun the human race will have either suffered earlier extinction or ventured into a a galactic pursuit of new livable terrain.

Consider the batteries in your mouse. Sometimes our intelligent computers will alert us with a “low battery” message. This allows for a new mark on the shopping list, “pick up batteries,” and ultimately for you the reader to continue navigating your way through this article and onward towards an abundance of web information. Given the significant stretch of planetary life, Earth’s “low battery” indication may have already lit. Compressing 4.6 billion years of earthly existence into the face of a clock leaves Homo sapiens marking only the “last two seconds of [a] twenty-four-hour day” (pg. 14). Accounting for only our recorded history of civilization those seconds are even further reduced.

As the book moves through the eons, eras and periods it visits evidence of the stratigraphic record, the harmony of our encircling satellite and a delicate axis tilt, past the explosions of life as presented in the Burgess Shale (pg. 122) on into shorter days, returning super continents, uninhabitable conditions and a fascinating chapter dedicated to the loss of oceans. To anthropomorphize, visualize the planet as a living organism not unlike a common individual cell, life’s biochemical sphere; now relate the emanating energy field or human aura if you will to the images captured by “‘Carruther’s camera'” from Apollo 16 that “provided stunning images, which show Earth to be surrounded by a ghostly halo of fluorescing hydrogen gas” (pg. 136).  While this ring extends only “a few tens of kilometers before it is lost in the blackness of space,” observation within the ultraviolet range reveals a strange “Lyman alpha aura [extending] tens of thousands of kilometers outward, a sphere of escaping gas much larger than the Earth itself” (pg. 136). To those less inclined to hire images on ones own accord a highly recognizable introduction from Universal Pictures proves picturesque.

Click here to buy The Life and Death of Planet Earth

As escaping elements and gravitating atoms have, do and continue to leave us I am reminded of one final quote highly relevant to the subject at hand. “Yet even today, less than 1 percent of the original hydrogen of cosmos–the simplest atom–has been converted to more complex elements. The atoms of your body–and indeed, of our world–are products of evolutionary recycling in the cosmos” (pg. 26).

All cosmos aside, at the local level the book contains references to The University of Chicago’s Jack Sepkoski and Chicago Paleontologist David Raup and their respected contributions to the argument of diversification and introduction of the term “background extinction rates” (pgs. 41, 45).

To say the long and short, it is a good science read.

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