It happened on Mars. It happened on the Moon. And now, billions of years later, it looks like our world is on death row, too. Earth should be the next planet to experience freezing of its core -- turning our world into an empty, lifeless chunk of rock, quite much like Mars.
As you may know, our planet is filled with super hot fluid, much like a Belgian chocolate. When volcanoes erupt, they spew out the liquid -- itís magma. Even deeper in the Earthís core, there should be a massive, searing ocean of molten metal sloshing about. The core of the Earth is made of liquid iron, peppered with liquid nickel.
Now really, we at Exit Mundi donít like volcanoes and earthquakes and all that any more than you do. But still, we should consider ourselves lucky to have all of this molten stuff under your feet. Without it, we would have no land to live on! The magma constantly replenishes the land: it boils up in the Atlantic ocean, freezes and thus constantly adds rock and soil to our world. Just think of it: every mountain you see, every piece of stone you pick up: it was all once liquid magma!
But thereís trouble ahead. Very slowly, the Earth is cooling down from outside in, much like an oven dish placed in a fridge. The Earth is freezing. In the end, the Earthís core will no longer be liquid, but solid. Our planetís restless bowels will calm down -- forever.
The Core, before and after
The first thing you would notice is less volcanoes, and less earthquakes. Hey, thatís fun -- but itís just the beginning. Slowly, wind and rain will begin to erode the Earth away. Very gradually, mountains will shrink. Grain by grain, they will crumble down, and get washed away by rain and rivers, into the sea. It will take hundreds of millions of years, thatís the good news. But the bad news is that in the end, there will be no more land left! Itís a bit strange to imagine, but when you level out all the land evenly across the globe, and smear it out onto the bottom of the sea, you would find nothing will be stick out of the water. No continents, no rocks, no islands, not even a sand bank. All that will be gone forever.
So okay, you decide to live on some kind of ship from now on -- with many millions of years ahead, thereís plenty of time to build some sort of Ark. But wait. Next thing you know, the deeper, liquid metal core starts to freeze up, too. And that means the Earthís magnetic field will weaken -- and go out. Forever.
Now that really brings out the beast. As we explained elsewhere on this site, no magnetic field means: no protection against space radiation. We will have more cancers, and more blackouts. But thatís not the big issue. The worst part is, our atmosphere will begin to vanish. Very slowly, molecule by molecule, the stuff we call air will be lost in space.
Itís the solar wind doing this, my friends. Without magnetic field, the stream of particles coming from the sun can quietly eat away the atmosphere. The atmosphere will literally be blown away, direction deep space!
According to some researchers, exactly this is what happened on Mars a few billions of years ago. Mars is much smaller than our planet, and accordingly, it froze up sooner. Scientists believe this is what killed Mars. With itís magnetic field down, the Sun could blow away Marsí early atmosphere. After a few hundreds of millions of years, it was gone.
Can "The Core" really happen?
In the Hollywood movie "The Core" (2003), the Earthís core suddenly becomes Ďdeactivatedí -- for reasons that remain unclear throughout the movie.
Itís a bad movie, and so is the science behind it. Thereís just no way the huge, soaring sea of molten metal below our feet can suddenly Ďstopí. The core is bigger than the planet Mars! Really, thereís no stopping it. Whatís more, Ďreactivatingí the core with a nuke is total nonsense, too. Itís the kind of stuff that only happens in movies -- not on the real planet. "Monumentally dumb" -- thatís what The New York Times called it.
Hey, but Mars has this other thingie too: it has no liquid water. Well -- the same lies in store for our planet. With no atmosphere, there is no air pressure to hold down the water. All water would simply vanish into thin air -- literally.
So just imagine it: youíre sitting in your Ark, wearing a space suit -- when suddenly, ahoy, land in sight! But pretty soon after that, youíll find that land is about the only thing left. Oceans become lakes, and lakes become ponds. And in the end, the ponds will evaporate too. Oh, now thatís cool -- now youíre without water, too.
Weíll find ourselves on a kind of Mars the Second: a lifeless, airless, waterless, dead world -- with only some gullies and dried-up river beds remembering of its more lively past.
If that doesnít depress you, thereís this: the freezing of the core seems quite inevitable. It isnít some speculative, weird phenomenon -- most experts agree the freeze-up is indeed going to happen one day.
Fortunately, you and we wonít be there to tell the tale. Weíre looking at billions of years, before the freezing really begins to show. Some 2,000,000,000 years, it is estimated. Thatís plenty of time to make a nice space suit for everybody on the planet.
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