There Might Be Water On All Rocky Planets

Artist’s impression of a massive asteroid belt in orbit around a star. Earth's water may not have all come from asteroids and comets, so maybe that's true for exoplanets. Credit: NASA-JPL / Caltech / T. Pyle (SSC)

If you asked someone who was reasonably scientifically literate how Earth got its water, they’d likely tell you it came from asteroids—or maybe comets and planetesimals, too—that crashed into our planet in its early days. There’s detail, nuance, and uncertainty around that idea, but it’s widely believed to be the most likely reason that Earth has so much water.

But a new explanation for Earth’s water is emerging. It says that the water comes along for the ride when Earth formed out of the solar nebula.

If that’s correct, it means that most rocky planets might have water for at least a portion of their lives.

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Scientists in Japan Have Found a Detailed Record of the Earth’s Last Magnetic Reversal, 773,000 Years Ago

Every 200,000 to 300,000 years Earth’s magnetic poles reverse. What was once the north pole becomes the south, and vice versa. It’s a time of invisible upheaval.

The last reversal was unusual because it was so long ago. For some reason, the poles have remained oriented the way they are now for about three-quarters of a million years. A new study has revealed some of the detail of that reversal.

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Geologists Have Found the Earth’s Missing Tectonic Plate

Northern Canada has been keeping a secret from the rest of the world. It’s home to “Resurrection,” a tectonic plate that has been much theorized but never found until now. A team of researchers used what amounts to a CAT scan of northern Canada and the mantle underneath it to find the missing plate.

Finding it could lead to better hazard prediction and also to finding mineral and hydrocarbon deposits. But better than that, it’s helping scientists piece together Earth’s history.

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Great Barrier Reef Has Lost Half of its Coral Over the Last 25 Years

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia August 1992

A new study found that warmer ocean temperatures driven by climate change have caused Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to lose more than half of its corals since 1995. The researchers say virtually all coral populations along the Great Barrier Reef have declined due to repeated “bleaching events” in the past 25 years. They said the devastation of the coral will continue unless action is taken to mitigate the causes of a warming climate.  

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A Supernova Exploded Dangerously Close to Earth 2.5 Million Years Ago

In its 4.5 billion year history, Earth has had to run the gauntlet. Numerous catastrophes have imperilled the planet, from massive impacts, to volcanic conflagrations, to frigid episodes of snowball Earth. Yet life persists.

Among all of the hazards that threaten a planet, the most potentially calamitous might be a nearby star exploding as a supernova.

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A New Mass Extinction has been Discovered, Wiping Out Life 233 Million Years Ago, and Leading to the Rise of the Dinosaurs

Most everybody knows that the dinosaurs perished rapidly in a tumultuous extinction, caused by an asteroid strike about 66 million years ago. But it looks like another extinction prior to the appearance of the dinosaurs paved the way for their long reign. That extinction took place about 233 million years ago.

And scientists have only now discovered it.

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This is the View You Get Staring out of the Space Station’s Cupola Module

Those lucky few who have the incredible opportunity to see the Earth from space often report the view gives them a sense of awe, unity and clarity. This perspective-altering experience has come to be known as the Overview Effect, from a book by the same name published 1987 by space philosopher Frank White.

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Did Snowball Earth Happen Because of a Sudden Drop in Sunlight?

Hundreds of millions of years ago, Earth went through two episodes of severe glaciation. These two episodes—the Sturtian and the Marinoan glaciations—occured during the Earth’s Cryogenian Period. The Cryogenian lasted from about 720 million to 635 million years ago.

The phenomenon is called “Snowball Earth” and both instances of it happened in pretty quick succession. And while a planet encased in ice and snow sounds devastating, these episodes may have paved the way for the development of complex life.

The question is, what caused the Earth to freeze over like that?

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