The Earth is a great physical as also a tangible spiritual entity encompassing all life. You may, therefore, call it the corporeal manifestation, or material body, not to speak of being endowed with spiritual intelligence, or quotient. Our planet, from which we have all emerged, is also not just a resource. It is neither simply a warehouse of minerals, raw materials, inert, or emotive, matter we need, or use, to foster our physical existence, health, or material needs, nor is it a derisory garbage plonk, or the mere creator of food.
What’s more, most of us do not think of our living planet as ‘our’ larger body. To cull a paradigm. Modern science, nay quantum physics, reveals that even subatomic particles are not things, but links between things. You may call this ‘consilience,’ or the interconnectedness of all things, based on the ancient Greek concept of orderliness and the relatedness of all things — big and small. This idea also celebrates a sense of elevated spiritual union, or a multihued synthesis. Call it cosmic ballet, or the Earth’s own nritya [dance], and you have a whole new dimension of the living planet being more than a divine entity — a veritable summit of man’s harmonious existence.
Let’s now delve into the scientific nritya, or mosaic of what makes our planet flip-flop, as it were, in its dance of shadows with the cosmos, or the universe, as we know it. Geologists have known, for long, like the palm of their hand, that the Earth’s magnetic field turns topsy-turvy, while magnetised objects are attracted to the South Pole — not the North. Although over 300 such reversals have taken place, causing the living planet to flip, during the last 170 million years, research has ironically not been able to solve the mystery and explain with conviction why the unusually usual phenomenon occurs in that precise, time-honoured fashion.
Physicists at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, US, have endeavoured to ‘break out’ of the scientific cocoon with an alternative solution to the big, nagging question, too — one that may also be found in the fundamental chemistry of some extraterrestrial [ET] intruders. Meteorites, for example. Not surprisingly, the new theory has drawn both admiration and flak — from not only the scientific community, but also others.
Interestingly, the formation of magnetised minerals in the Earth’s crust reveals magnetic flips. Once molten, these minerals, as researchers explain, may have possibly cooled from time to time. As a result, their atoms lined up towards the planet’s magnetic field. This is precisely the reason why certain dates of a host of such flips have been so close to the formation of crust layers. You got it right. These layers consist of small, glassy pieces of rocks [tektites] formed by the heat and force of a meteorite hit. Some physicists contend that when a large meteorite ‘strikes’ our planet it produces a chain of events that may just as well penetrate the Earth deeply. This may also, they contend, dissipate the basic mechanism that generates the magnetic field.
As it is, a cross-section of the Earth, at the equator, will reveal a solid central core, enveloped by a liquid layer of molten iron. This, in turn, is covered by a solid mantle and crust. Aside from this, there are several regularly circulating streams of iron — connection cells — which, when driven by the heat from the core, rise towards the mantle, to cool and sink back. You know it, don’t you — that this process is recycled anew, time and again, to facilitate a subsequent lift-off?
You guessed it right again. The magnetic field that permeated the galaxy may have, perhaps, led to the generation of electric current, early in Earth’s journey through time, besides the magnetic fields. Down the ages, it may have been possible for this current to spawn its own ‘steam’ in the cells and create the Earth’s magnetic field. In a round-about fashion, meteorites, as scientists aver, can kick-off massive columns of smoke and dust, and smog the rays of the sun for long periods. And, the effect? A sudden drop in global temperatures. Not only this. An abrupt cooling pattern of the sort explained elsewhere, in this piece, may also mean that water from the oceans would fall as snow and ice, instead of as rain. Inference: long after the dust clouds are cleared, temperatures would remain status quo ante for hundreds of years.
There’s more — when water melts during summers and returns to the oceans, it forms ice caps. As some of the Earth’s mass — i.e., water at the equator — now moves closer to its rotational axis, in the form of ice, the planet may start to spin more rapidly. Nevertheless, the acceleration of the spinning solid’s outer part won’t be transmitted, because if the speed is rapid enough, it will place pressure on the circulating cells. So much so, the latter may be pulled apart, with the magnetic field itself disintegrating in a jiffy. This isn’t all. There’s another interesting component: since the field has no power preferential vote for north or south polarity, it may lead to a process of magnetic reversal.
There is striking evidence of rapid climatic changes associated with reversals and impaction of meteorites. For instance, the dry lake bed in India, or the ratio of carbon to nitrogen atoms in sediment layers, or peaking at extreme cold weather, as also sediments near some craters in south-east Asia. While prominent spikes indicate why such reversals occurred precisely 200,000 million and 73,000 million years ago, only one evidence of a meteorite impact coinciding with the phenomenon has been recorded.
Controversy dogs the new theory too, as may be common with all novel ideas. While some geologists do not accept the tektites’ formation analogy vis-à-vis a meteorite hit, because tektites could be formed even before impact, others pooh-pooh the ice cap theory. But, the fact is: no one has, so far, demonstrated why these caps cannot be formed quickly under bizzare, or uncommon conditions.
One glimmer of hope for protagonists of the new idea is the ground swell of ‘impeccable’ similarities of explanation. These carry a remarkable chain of coincidences: of climate changes, impact of meteorites and magnetic flips, through the ages. You may also say that these are more than fascinating coincidences vis-à-vis the incredible anatomy of what could be labelled as the earthy flip-flop.
Now to digress a tad. While the anatomy and physiology of earthy flip-flop are part of the cosmos, the effect on the ground connotes changes in light, and the seasons, especially for people not living near the equator. According to Iggy Provencio, a circadian biologist at the University of Virginia, US, "Humans are not believed to be all ‘seasonal’ [‘unlike’ our cosmos], but there are exceptions." There is evidence, as she explains, of seasonal ‘peaks’ in suicides, which occur more frequently in summer, and birth rates, which tend to ‘peak’ in spring and summer. The strongest evidence of human seasonality, she adds, comes in the form of seasonal affective disorder [SAD]. People affected by SAD suffer from major depressive episodes related to the seasons — the symptoms often escalate in late fall, or early winter, and drop in spring, or summer. A study published in The Archives of General Psychiatry found that people suffering from SAD secreted the hormone, melatonin, for longer periods during winter nights than during summer nights. It may also be surmised that human production of melatonin, which regulates sleep, does not vary with the seasons. All of us, likewise, know that we are endowed with an internal bioclock that governs our sleep-wake cycles, or ‘runs’ us all, among several other daily functions. Light, for instance, provides us with non-visual cues that influence factors such as pupil dilation, alertness, melatonin levels, and heart rate modulation. You guessed it right. Again. Light receptors in the retina of the eyes — rods, cones and photosensitive retinal ganglion cells — too pass along non-visual information used to reset our circadian rhythms, or bioclocks. Put simply, we all need light to charge our ‘bulbs’ of normal activity, not to speak of maintaining hormonal balance.
Let’s now delve into a topic straight out of a futuristic Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Scientists do not rule out the possibility of the Earth, popping away from its orbit and running asunder through the galaxy, all right. This penumbral idea has been proposed on the basis of thoroughly exhaustive and intricate studies. The background: a planet’s position, for example, may be deciphered on the strength of its place held and velocity, as may be existent at one time. This could also enable us to ‘predict’ what they will be a billion years later. Simple? Not at all. Because, actual conditions cannot be ‘taped’ with clockwork accuracy. This is exactly the reason why scientists have summed up the new brainwave in a single word, ‘chaos.’
Here’s why. A change in the planet’s position has a lot of implications. It could disturb the Earth’s ecological balance and also lead to collisions with other heavenly objects — e.g., asteroids. An asteroid impact on Earth can be catastrophic. This sinister spectre has prompted scientists to, therefore, work on safety systems that could prevent asteroids from hitting the Earth.
In a research study, performed by US scientists, computer simulations provided substance to the idea that chaos is endemic in the solar system. A 100-million-year integration, in the first assay, found some indications of chaos among the four giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. In the second, scientists found chaos all over the solar system, more prominently among the inner planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. It is now suggested that the Earth’s orbit, thanks to computer findings [aside from observations of the other inner planets], may be pictured differently a hundred million years from our time. Interestingly, an American researcher even believes that the source of disturbance in the inner solar system may be related, perforce, to a sort of strong resonance between Mars and Earth. No need to push the panic button yet. Because, most researchers insist that chaos is a self-limiting factor — they also emphasise that it precludes potentially hazardous orbital excursions of planets.
Taking a cue from a ‘difficult’ celestial object like Pluto, for instance, which has remained stable for a long time, scientists now reckon that its three-to-two orbital resonance with Neptune shields it from ejection. Whatever the inference, no one is quite sure about the chaotic theory and its exact ramifications — and, what it means, in essence and reality, to the solar system as a whole. As one investigator put it, “If the solar system is sculpted by chaos, the possibility that it might be unstable begins to look a bit more genuine.”
So far, so good. All the same, one inescapable ‘down-to-earth’ piece of information of the chaotic entity, or drama, remains unfathomed. The most certain thing about planetary pathways, without an iota of doubt, is perplexed implausibility, with more than an element of a spiritual web running through them — come rain or shine, summer or winter. This design is also, in its sum and substance, akin to chaotic uncertainty. Of what makes Twenty20 cricket electrifying, changeable, unpredictable, and soulfully uplifting.