SpaceX’s first all-civilian crew say they’re taking a ukulele, poetry, and a copy of TIME magazine to space

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Inspiration4 crew left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor.

  • SpaceX’s Inspiration4 crew are set to take a ukulele, poetry, and NFTs to space on Wednesday.
  • The items will be auctioned off to raise money for a hospital where one of the crew members works.
  • Chris Sembroski, who is taking the ukulele, said the “acoustics are pretty good” on board.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The crew of SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 mission are taking a ukulele, artwork, and NFTs on their three-day trip around the Earth.

This is SpaceX’s first fully private human spaceflight, and it is scheduled to launch on Wednesday evening from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The four people on board, none of whom are professional astronauts, are Jared Isaacman, a billionaire businessman; Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran; and Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and science communication specialist.

Sembroski, who is a Lockheed Martin employee, said in a SpaceX press conference on Tuesday that he wanted to play his ukulele onboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

“I’m very excited that I’ll be able to try my hand at playing some music on the ukulele up in space,” he said. “I apologize for any ears listening intently but I’ll give it my best shot.”

He added that “the acoustics are pretty good in Dragon.”

The items they want to take to space will be auctioned to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, where Arceneaux works as a physician assistant.

These include 51 non-fungible tokens (NFTs), including one by rock band Kings of Leon, according to a mission statement sent Friday.

“We’re going to jam to it in orbit and later auction it,” Arceneaux said in the SpaceX press conference on Tuesday.

The other 50 NFTs up for auction are pieces of art created by different artists, Inspiration4’s statement said.

Proctor said in the Tuesday press conference that she was taking her own art and poetry into space, as well as artwork from students at the community college where she teaches.

The crew is also planning to pack a TIME magazine with their autographs on, Inspiration4 mission jackets, and toys based on characters from the animated children’s series “Space Racers,” the statement said.

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Astronauts’ photos from the space station reveal the highs and lows of watching Earth from above in 2021 so far

earth seen from space above the red sea and the nile river snaking down africa
The thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere appears on the horizon beyond the Red Sea and the Nile River in Africa, February 3, 2021.

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) drink in stunning views every day.

panorama photo shows deep blue Caribbean sea with brown green islands stretching across the curvature of the earth
This composite photograph of Cuba, the Bahamas, and southern Florida was taken from the ISS on May 2, 2021.

From more than 250 miles above the Earth, they can see city lights, mountain ranges, major storms, and melting glaciers.

istanbul city grid lit up yellow gold at night with dark ocean waters and river splitting the city as seen from above
The night lights of Istanbul, Turkey, split by the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn, May 10, 2021.

Since the space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes, astronauts see 16 sunrises and sunsets per day.

sun rises yellow orange above the dark surface of the earth below blue atmosphere and black space above
The sun rises above the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, as photographed from the space station, May 20, 2021.

There are currently seven people on the station.

yellow brown mountain rises above deep green forest
Mount Taranaki in New Zealand, captured from the ISS, January 25, 2021.

Some of them – including European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Megan McArthur – regularly post stunning photos on social media.

tokyo city grid lit up green at night with thin dark rivers splitting the city as seen from above
The night lights of Tokyo, Japan, February 27, 2021.

Agricultural areas can make beautiful patterns, like these farms in the desert. It’s not easy to pin down exact locations from space, but Pesquet said this was somewhere in Africa.

desert peppered with blue and green circles of crops
A desert peppered with blue and green circles where crops are grown, captured from the ISS.

In some places, like Bolivia, those pretty patterns – and the crops growing within them – come at the expense of clearing tropical forests.

agricultural areas make star-like patterns in the rainforest of bolivia
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet shared this image on Twitter with the caption: “Star-like patterns in San Pedro Limón, Bolivia where areas of the tropical dry forest have been cleared for agriculture.”

When spaceships launch towards the station, carrying astronauts or supplies, those aboard the ISS often watch the rocket streaking towards them.

bright rocket streak rises in the distance above deep blue and black nighttime clouds
The plasma trail of Russia’s Progress 77 resupply ship launching towards the ISS, July 26, 2021.

Astronauts don’t always know what they’re looking at.

brown desert covered in islands of rust-colored or shrubby land
The far eastern, desert-covered portion of Western Australia, May 14, 2021.

But sometimes they spot something distinct and dramatic, like a volcano spewing gas.

volcano emits vapor above snowy mountains
A volcano in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, captured from the ISS, April 2, 2021.

Occasionally, they even spy their homelands – like this picture Pesquet snapped of his birthplace in Normandy, France.

normandy france coast purple yellow green speckled land against deep blue ocean
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet snapped this image of Normandy shortly after arriving at the International Space Station, April 28, 2021.

“How can something so beautiful be tolerated by human eyes?” NASA astronaut Mike Massimino told the Washington Post, referring to his feelings the first time he saw Earth from above.

cape town jagged mountainous coast extends into silvery atlantic waters
Cape Town in South Africa is pictured with the sun’s glint beaming off the South Atlantic coast, captured from the ISS, February 28, 2021.

Source: The Washington Post

But lately, some of the sights from the ISS have been more concerning.

 

“We’ve been very saddened to see fires over huge sections of the Earth, not just the United States,” McArthur told Insider on a recent call from the space station.

wildfire smoke plumes rise from california mountains surrounding a valley as seen from space
Plumes of smoke billow from wildfires in Northern California, August 4, 2021.

Other consequences of climate change are easily visible from the ISS, too. “We can see all of those effects from up here,” McArthur said.

melting glacier flows into icy blue water
The declining Upsala Glacier in Patagonia, captured where it melts into water by astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

Pesquet photographed Hurricane Ida just hours before it struck Louisiana as a Category 4 storm.

hurricane ida swirling clouds dominate the earth as seen from space
Hurricane Ida as a Category 2 storm on August 28, 2021.

“It’s worrying to see these weather phenomena becoming stronger and more frequent from our vantage point,” Pesquet said on Twitter.

hurricane ida cyclone seen through a window port on the space station
Hurricane Ida as a Category 2 storm, photographed through a space station window port on August 28, 2021.

Lately the astronauts can even see dwindling reservoirs along the Colorado River, which is in its first-ever official water shortage.

 

On the bright side, though, astronauts caught a stunning view of the southern aurora earlier this month.

aurora green stripes on the horizon against the starry background of outer space with shadowy space station solar panels in the foreground
The aurora australis above the southern Indian Ocean, in between Asia and Antarctica, photographed from the space station on August 2, 2021.

“I wasn’t surprised by the auroras, but I was kind of bowled over by how breathtaking they really were, and how mesmerizing it was to see it with my own eyes,” McArthur said.

aurora green glow lines the curvature of the earth with starry outer space behind it
The aurora australis above the southern Indian Ocean, in between Asia and Antarctica, photographed from the space station on August 2, 2021.

McArthur has also been scoping out US National Parks to visit with her husband – astronaut Bob Behnken – and their son once she’s back on the ground.

joshua tree national park seen from space sandy shrubby rocky brown mountains
Joshua Tree National Park, photographed from space by astronaut Megan McArthur.

Passing over the US, she can see several National Parks in just a few minutes.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks granite grey mountains peppered with blue alpine lakes
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, photographed from space by astronaut Megan McArthur.

“The other thing that we can see, of course, is the very thin lens of atmosphere,” McArthur said.

thin atmosphere glowing orange against space stars above nighttime earth city lights
The atmosphere glows above the southeastern African coast, as seen from the International Space Station.

“That is what protects our Earth and everything on it,” she added. “We see how fragile that is, and we know how important it is.”

earth seen from space above the red sea and the nile river snaking down africa
The thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere appears on the horizon beyond the Red Sea and the Nile River in Africa, February 3, 2021.

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5 solutions that may help us feed 10 billion people by 2050 without ruining the planet

Child eating porridge
There are already hundreds of millions of people hungry today and agriculture already uses almost half of the world’s vegetated land.

  • The French Institute for Demographic Studies suggests 10 billion humans will inhabit Earth by 2050.
  • The World Resources Institute (WRI) estimated that food needs will increase by 56% by 2050.
  • The WRI suggested five ways we may be able to feed a 10 billion-strong population by 2050.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At a current population of just over 7.8 billion people, there are already a lot of mouths to feed on planet Earth.

This number is set to increase even further to nearly 10 billion of us by 2050, according to forecasts by the French Institute for Demographic Studies.

This predicted population boom means we’re going to need a lot more food – a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) has estimated that food needs will increase by 56% by 2050.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom.

The WRI has also outlined five ways we might be able to sustainably feed a 10 billion strong population by 2050, all while “stabilizing the climate, promoting economic development, and reducing poverty”.

Here are the five ways to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050 without destroying our planet, according to the WRI report.

Reduce demand for food by limiting food waste

milk
Consumption of milk and meat – foods that rely heavily on pasture for their production – is likely to grow by 68% between now and 2050.

According to data in the report, of all the food produced in the world each year, approximately one third by weight is lost or wasted between leaving the fields and reaching our plates.

The authors of the report suggest reducing demand by limiting food waste, shifting towards healthier and more sustainable diets, for example, vegetarianism, and avoiding “avoiding competition from bioenergy for food crops and land”.

The report also made mention of encouraging “voluntary reductions in fertility levels” by educating girls, reducing child mortality, and providing access to reproductive health services.

Yield more crops by making production more efficient

wheat nebraska
The world must boost the output of food on existing
agricultural land.

This would be achieved by improving milk and meat productivity per hectare of pasture, per animal, especially for cattle; improving soil management and irrigation systems.

The report warns: “If today’s levels of production efficiency were to remain constant through 2050, then feeding the planet would entail clearing most of the world’s remaining forests, wiping out thousands more species, and releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions to exceed the 1.5°C and 2°C warming targets enshrined in the Paris Agreement – even if emissions from all other human activities were entirely eliminated.”

Protect and restore natural ecosystems and limit agricultural land-shifting

Amazon rainforets
At a regional level, agricultural land is shifting away from developed countries and towards developing countries.

As some agricultural land will inevitably shift, maintaining forest and savanna areas will require reforestation of abandoned agricultural land or restoration to other natural or semi-natural ecosystems.

In regions where there is a clear need to expand agriculturally, such as areas in Africa, the report recommends land with a low carbon cost per ton of crop be used for this purpose.

Increase fish supply

fish market
Fish are crucial for more than three billion people in developing countries across the globe.

The report suggests that the world fishing effort needs to decline by 5% per year over a 10 year period, merely to allow fish stocks to recover.

There are numerous ways of improving aquaculture and gaining better control over wild fisheries, one being to look at disease control among fish species – or reducing overfishing.

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production

greenhouse gas emissions
Agriculture is responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Nitrogen deposits from animal feces and urine can be converted into nitrous oxide at roughly twice the rate of nitrogen in fertilizer.

One way in which we could lower greenhouse gas emissions, as the report outlined, would be to use more plant substitutes rather than animal proteins.

The report also suggested growing new crops with reduced greenhouse gas emissions as well as improving the fertilizers we use to reduce nitrogen runoff.

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Earth’s rotation has been slowing since it formed – and that could explain why there’s enough oxygen for us to survive

Clouds above earth
Subtropical stratocumulus clouds above Earth.

  • Earth’s spin has been slowing little by little since it formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
  • That slowing means days are getting longer, which helps some bacteria produce more oxygen.
  • A new study suggests such bacteria produced enough oxygen 2 billion years ago for life to survive.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ever since its formation around 4.5 billion years ago, Earth’s rotation has been gradually slowing, and its days have gotten progressively longer as a result.

While Earth’s slowdown is not noticeable on human time scales, it’s enough to work significant changes over eons. One of those changes, according to a new study published Monday, is perhaps the most significant of all: lengthening days boosted the amount of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

As Earth’s days grew longer, blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, that emerged and proliferated about 2.4 billion years ago would have been able to produce more oxygen as a metabolic byproduct, the study authors suggest.

“An enduring question in Earth sciences has been how did Earth’s atmosphere get its oxygen, and what factors controlled when this oxygenation took place,” Gregory Dick, a microbiologist at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

“Our research suggests that the rate at which Earth is spinning – in other words, its day length – may have had an important effect on the pattern and timing of Earth’s oxygenation,” he added.

Longer days encouraged bacteria to produce more oxygen

the moon surface
The moon as viewed by NASA’s Mariner 10 in 1973.

There are two major components to this story that, at first glance, don’t seem to have a lot to do with each other. The first is that Earth’s spin is slowing down. Earth’s rate of rotation is slowing because the moon exerts a gravitational pull on the planet. As the moon gradually pulls away from Earth, it imperceptibly slows down how fast our planet rotates.

Research suggests that Earth’s days are lengthening by 1.8 milliseconds every century. In our planet’s infancy, days may have been as brief as 6 hours. About 1.4 billion years ago, days were just 18 hours long.

The second component is something known as the Great Oxidation Event – when cyanobacteria emerged in such great quantities that Earth’s atmosphere experienced a significant rise in oxygen between 2.4 billion and 2 billion years ago.

Without this event, scientists think life as we know it could not have emerged.

Researchers still aren’t sure why the event happened when it did and not sometime earlier in Earth’s history, but the new study may help connect the dots.

In the Middle Island Sinkhole in Michigan’s Lake Huron, there are mats of microbes similar to the cyanobacteria responsible for the Great Oxidation Event.

In these lake-bed mats, purple cyanobacteria that produce oxygen via photosynthesis compete with white microbes that metabolize sulfur. At night, the white microbes rise to the top of the microbial mat and munch their their sulfur. When day breaks, and the sun rises high enough in the sky, the white microbes retreat and the purple cyanobacteria rise to the top.

“Now they can start to photosynthesize and produce oxygen,” study co-author Judith Klatt said in the release. “However, it takes a few hours before they really get going, there is a long lag in the morning. The cyanobacteria are rather late risers than morning persons, it seems.”

This means the window of daytime in which the cyanobacteria can pump out oxygen is very limited – and it was this fact that caught the attention of researchers at the University of Michigan. They wondered if changing day length over Earth’s history had an impact on cyanobacteria’s photosynthesis.

“It’s possible that a similar type of competition between microbes contributed to the delay in oxygen production on the early Earth,” Klatt said.

cyanobacteria bloom baltic sea nasa 2015 closeup 8
A cyanobacteria bloom in the Baltic Sea, 2015.

To test this hypothesis, Klatt and Dick’s team performed experiments and measurements on the Michigan lake bed microbes, both in their natural environment and in a lab. They also created models based on their results that linked sunlight to microbial oxygen production, and microbial oxygen production to Earth’s history.

“Intuition suggests that two 12-hour days should be similar to one 24-hour day. The sunlight rises and falls twice as fast, and the oxygen production follows in lockstep,” Arjun Chennu, a marine scientist with the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Germany and study co-author, said in the release.

“But the release of oxygen from bacterial mats does not, because it is limited by the speed of molecular diffusion. This subtle uncoupling of oxygen release from sunlight is at the heart of the mechanism,” he said.

These results were incorporated into global models of oxygen levels, and the team found that lengthening days were linked to the increase in Earth’s oxygen – not just the Great Oxidation Event, but also a second atmospheric oxygenation called the Neoproterozoic Oxygenation Event that occurred between 550 to 800 million years ago.

“We show that there is a fundamental link between day length and how much oxygen can be released by ground-dwelling microbes,” Chennu said. “It’s pretty exciting. This way we link the dance of the molecules in the microbial mat to the dance of our planet and its moon.”

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You can see exactly where your hometown would have been while dinosaurs were on Earth using this digital globe

Earth
When the first dinosaurs began roaming Earth 220 million years ago, New York City was far closer to Morocco than it is today.

  • A digital globe makes it possible to see where your hometown would have been 750 million years ago.
  • Scientist Ian Webster was the brains behind the digital globe.
  • The globe shows how much change Earth has experienced over hundreds of millions of years.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. While 750 million years may seem like nothing in relation to its age, a lot of can change in the space of 750 million years.

300 million years ago the world consisted of just one single continent: Pangaea – 200 to 150 million years ago it started to split into two parts: Laurasia and Gondwana.

With time and a very slow shifting of our tectonic plates, our planet morphed into what it is today.

A digital globe rendering of the Ancient Earth makes it possible to see where your hometown would have been 750 million years ago – 150 million years before the first multi-cellular life forms developed.

Using data from a software platform called G-Plates, scientist Ian Webster created a digital globe where you can see where and when you would have lived at various points in Earth’s history.

The map consists of 91 paleogeographic maps spanning the Phanerozoic and late Neoproterozoic periods, illustrating the ancient configuration of the ocean basins and continents, as well as important features including mountains, shallow sea, and deep oceans.

We searched where New York City would have been at different stages throughout history – the pale pink marker shows where New York City would have been.

Devonian Period. Life on land becomes more complex as plants develop. Insects diversify and fish develop sturdy fins, which eventually evolve into limbs. The first vertebrates walk on land. Oceans and coral reefs host a diverse range of fish, sharks, sea scorpions, and cephalopods.
At this stage, life on land was becoming more complex as plants developed. Fish developed sturdy fins that eventually evolved into limbs.

Around 400 million years ago, the first vertebrates began walking on land. The Earth’s landscape looked very different to how it does now.

Middle Triassic. The Earth is recovering from the Permian-Triassic extinction. Small dinosaurs begin to appear. Therapsids and archosaurs emerge, along with the first flying vertebrates.
At this stage, small dinosaurs were beginning to appear on Earth, along with the first flying vertebrates.

When the first dinosaurs began roaming Earth 220 million years ago, New York City was far closer to Morocco than it is today.

Mammals and birds continue to evolve into modern forms. Early hominids emerge in Africa. Use the ← and → keys to step through time Paleogeographic maps by C.R. Scotese, visualization developed by Ian Webster ·  Details » 20 million years ago
20 million years ago, the first hominids were emerging in Africa.

While the continents of North America and South America may look a lot more familiar than the previous landscapes, hominids were only just starting to appear at this stage.

Researchers have suggested that the Earth’s plates will eventually meld into a “supercontinent” in roughly 300 million years, which they’ve dubbed Amasia.

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Jeff Bezos’s guests describe a short, crowded spaceflight experience: ‘There was not quite enough room’

jeff bezos and three other passengers in jumpsuits float around spaceship cabin earth in background
A screengrab from video recorded inside the New Shepard capsule shows (left to right) Oliver Daemen, Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk in microgravity.

Blue Origin rocketed its first passengers to the edge of space on Tuesday morning. Roughly 10 minutes later, the crew returned to the West Texas desert after spending just three minutes in zero gravity.

“I loved every minute of it,” Wally Funk, an 82-year-old aviator, said in a ceremony after the flight. “I just wish it had been longer.”

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, invited Funk and his brother, Mark, to accompany him on the flight. Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the Netherlands, joined them. His father had purchased the final seat on the flight after an auction winner backed out.

Back on land, the passengers beamed and gave hugs all around. They popped champagne at their landing site. But some of the guests’ reviews of the flight came with caveats.

“We went right on up and I saw darkness,” Funk, now the oldest person to ever travel to space, said. “I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough.”

Indeed, during the livestream Funk could be heard saying, “It’s dark up here.”

wally funk exits new shepard capsule after landing
Wally Funk emerges from the New Shepard capsule, July 20, 2021.

Once they unbuckled, the passengers could see Earth out the spaceship windows. But it wasn’t the blue marble one might witness from the moon, nor was it the same curving horizon that professional astronauts see from the International Space Station. (The station is about four times higher than the altitude Bezos and his companions reached on Tuesday.)

During the post-flight ceremony, Blue Origin shared the below video footage from inside the spaceship. In the background, you can clearly see clouds, the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and the blackness of space beyond it.

Here’s what would happen to life on Earth if the moon disappeared

  • Each year, the moon drifts an estimated 1.5 inches further away from Earth.
  • Turns out, the moon isn’t just a beacon of light in the night sky; its existence is crucial to the delicate balancing act that makes life on Earth possible.
  • The moon has the largest influence on Earth’s tides and, without it, high and low tides would shrink by an estimated 75%.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Our moon is on the move. Each year, it drifts an estimated 1.5 inches further away from Earth. And in the process, Earth’s rotation is actually slowing down. What if one night, the moon simply disappeared? Would we miss it?

A full moon is on average 14,000 times brighter than the next brightest night-sky object, Venus. So without it, every night would be as dark as a new moon. And star gazing would be spectacular.

But by the next morning, you’d begin to realize just how important the moon is for life on Earth. To start, between the sun, Earth’s rotation, and the moon, the moon has the largest influence on Earth’s tides.

Without it, high and low tides would shrink by an estimated 75%. This would jeopardize the lives of many types of crabs, mussels, and sea snails that live in tidal zones and disrupt the diets of larger animals who rely on them for food, threatening entire coastal ecosystems in the process. Within a few decades, we would start to see mass population declines in the sea and on land.

One of the largest spawning events in the world occurs in the Great Barrier Reef. Each November in the days following the light of a full moon, coral colonies across the reef – spanning an area larger than the state of New Mexico – release millions of egg and sperm sacs within nearly minutes of one another. Scientists are certain that the full moon plays a role in the timing, but exactly how remains a mystery.

On land, animals like these Red Crabs also use lunar cues to reproduce. After living most of their lives in the mountains, millions of adult crabs migrate down to shore. And then, only during the last quarter of the moon, females release their eggs into the sea.

Now, the moon may not hold as much sway over human reproduction. But without it, something else we care equally about would change – the weather. Tides and tidal currents help mix cold arctic waters with warmer waters in the tropics. This balances temperatures and stabilizes the climate worldwide. Without the moon, weather forecasts would be practically impossible. The average difference between the hottest and coldest places on Earth could grow to life-threatening extremes.

But none of this compares to the biggest change that we would have coming over the next millennia. Right now, Earth tilts on its axis at 23.5º mostly due to the moon’s gravity. If the moon disappeared, Earth’s axis would wobble between anywhere from 10 to 45º.

Some experts estimate that Jupiter could help keep Earth’s tilt from reeling completely out of control. But even just an extra 10º tilt could wreak havoc on the climate and seasons.
In the past, Earth’s tilt has changed by about 1-2º, which scientists think could have caused Ice Ages in the past. It’s hard to know what a 10º or 45º tilt would do but probably nothing good for most life on Earth.

The moon isn’t just imperative for life on Earth today. Experts believe that it may also have played a key role in the formation of life more than 3.5 billion years ago. Turns out, the moon isn’t just a beacon of light in the night sky. Its existence is crucial to the delicate balancing act that makes life here possible.

Video courtesy of Instagram/@Norazian, Instagram/faulkner_photography

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2018.

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Earth tipped over on its side 84 million years ago and then righted itself, new study finds

NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera image of earth
A photo of Earth taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC).

If you’d been able to stare at Earth from space during the late Cretaceous, when Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops roamed, it would’ve looked like the whole planet had tipped over on its side.

According to a new study, Earth tilted by 12 degrees about 84 million years ago.

“A 12-degree tilt of the Earth could affect latitude that same amount,” Sarah Slotznick, a geobiologist at Dartmouth College and co-author of the new study, told Insider.

It would approximately move New York City to where Tampa, Florida, is right now, she added.

Imagine the Earth as a chocolate truffle – a viscous center ensconced in a hardened shell. The center consists of a semi-solid mantle that encircles the liquid outer core. The top layer of the truffle, the Earth’s crust, is fragmented into tectonic plates that fit together like a puzzle. Continents and oceans sit atop these plates, which surf atop the mantle.

The researchers found that, between 86 and 79 million years ago, the crust and mantle had rotated around Earth’s outer core and back again – causing the entire planet to tilt and then right itself like a roly-poly toy.

Using magnetic rocks to track the Earth’s tipping

illustration of earth's core/mantle layers
An artist’s conception of the different layer’s of our planet, including the crust, mantle, and inner and outer cores.

Scientists can piece together a picture of which tectonic plates were where millions of years ago by analyzing what’s known as paleomagnetic data.

When lava at the junction of two tectonic plates cools, some of the resulting rock contains magnetic minerals that align with the directions of Earth’s magnetic poles at the time the rock solidified. Even after the plates containing those rocks have moved, researchers can study that magnetic alignment to parse out where on the global map those natural magnets existed in the past.

The study authors examined the magnetic alignment of ancient limestones they collected from Italy and found Earth’s crust was moving about 3 degrees every million years during its tilt and tilt back.

“We never suspected we would see this full round-trip event,” Ross Mitchell, a geophysicist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Slotznick’s co-author, told Insider.

A sinking tectonic plate may have caused Earth to tilt

earth moon near 1998 jhuapl nasa
NASA’s asteroid-bound NEAR spacecraft took this mosaic image of Earth and the moon in January 1998.

Imagine that the Earth is like a spinning top: If the top’s weight is evenly distributed, it should whirl perfectly, without any wobbling. But if some of the weight were to shift to one side or the other, that would change the top’s center of mass, leading it to tilt toward the heavier side as it spins.

According to Slotznick, upwellings of hot rock and magma – known as mantle plumes – from the outer core towards the crust may have played a role in altering how Earth’s mass was distributed during the late Cretaceous.

But Mitchell said shifting tectonic plates could explain Earth’s ancient 12-degree tilt. When hotter, less dense material from deep within the mantle rises toward to the crust, and colder, denser material sinks towards the core, these plates can collide. Upon impact, one plate will subduct, or sink, under another.

Prior to the late Cretaceous, the Pacific Plate – the largest tectonic plate on Earth spanning 40 million square miles under the Pacific Ocean – was sinking under another plate to its north. Around 84 million years ago, the Pacific Plate started subducting in a different direction, under another plate to its west. This change “might have very well changed the literal balance of the planet,” Mitchell said.

He wasn’t surprised to find the Earth had reversed course and tilted back.

“The planet’s outer later behaves elastically like a rubberband and would have snapped back to its original shape after the excursion,” he said.

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Earth’s core is growing lopsidedly, a new study suggests – and it’s been doing that for at least half a billion years

Earth's core illustration
An illustration of Earth’s core.

Think of the Earth like a geological tootsie pop.

If you were to peer more than 3,000 miles below your feet into the planet’s center, you’d see a dense, solid ball of iron roughly three-quarters the size of the moon. That iron spheroid is the inner core, and it’s nestled inside the planet’s molten outer core.

The inner core is always growing: Its radius increases by a millimeter each year as pieces of molten iron in the outer core cool and solidify into iron crystals. Although temperatures in the inner core are high enough to liquify iron, the intense pressure that deep inside the planet prevents the crystals from melting – picture it like packing a hard snowball.

But according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the inner core is growing lopsidedly. One half of the sphere, the eastern half under Indonesia’s Banda Sea, accrues 60% more iron crystals than its western counterpart, which is located under Brazil.

“The west side looks different from the east side all the way to the center,” Daniel Frost, a seismologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored the new study, said in a release. “The only way we can explain that is by one side growing faster than the other.”

Asymmetric growth in the core

artist's illustration of iron crystal distribution earth's inner core
A graphic showing how iron crystals are distributed and move around in Earth’s inner core.

Although the Earth is more than 4 billion years old, its inner core is younger – geologists suspect it formed between half a billion and 1.5 billion years ago, when pieces of liquid iron from the outer core first started to crystallize.

Frost’s team created a computer model that tracked the inner core’s growth over the last billion years. They found that its lopsided nature likely began as soon the core formed.

Of course, if one half has been growing faster than the other for that long, the inner core’s shape should no longer be spherical. But that’s not the case. So Frost and his colleagues think that gravity may be compensating for the asymmetrical growth by pushing excess crystals from the core’s eastern side to its western side, thereby helping the core maintain a ball-like physique.

illustration of earth's core/mantle layers
An artist’s concept of Earth’s layers, including the crust, mantle, and inner and outer cores.

Frost’s team isn’t sure why iron crystals are forming unevenly in the inner core, but he said the answer likely lies in the layers above it – both the outer core and the mantle, a 1,800-mile-thick band of hot rock on which the tectonic plates float.

“Every layer in the Earth is controlled by what’s above it, and influences what’s below it,” Frost told Live Science.

If iron is crystallizing more quickly on one side of the inner core than the other, that must mean the outer core is cooling faster on that side. So the mantle on that side, in turn, must be cooling the outer core faster than the mantle on the other side.

The genesis of that cooling chain, Frost said, could be Earth’s tectonic plates. When one plate pushes up against another, one subducts, or sinks, below the other. The subducting plate cools the mantle in that area of the planet.

The core’s lopsided growth might impact Earth’s magnetic field

Magnetosphere earth magnetic field
An illustration of Earth’s magnetic field, in blue, as it protects the planet from solar radiation.

Earth’s core plays a key role in protecting the planet from dangerous solar wind and radiation. Swirling iron in the outer core generates a magnetic field that stretches all the way from there to the space surrounding our planet.

That swirl happens, in part, because of a process in which hotter, lighter material from the outer core rises into the mantle above. There, it swaps places with cooler, denser mantle material, which sinks into the core below. This is known as convection.

Convection also happens between the inner and outer core, so if various parts of the outer and inner core are cooling at different rates, that could affect how much heat gets exchanged at the boundary – which might have an impact on the swirling engine powering Earth’s protective sheath.

“The question is, does this change the strength of the magnetic field?” Frost told Live Science.

For now, his group isn’t sure, but Frost said he’s investigating the answer.

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A ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse will be visible in the sky on Thursday. Here’s how to spot the rare event.

annular solar eclipse
An annular solar eclipse.

  • An annular solar eclipse will form in the sky at 6:53 a.m. ET on Thursday.
  • The phenomenon is marked by a bring circle of light, or ‘ring of fire,’ around the moon’s edge.
  • The sight is partially visible in the northeastern US but best seen from Canada and Russia.
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A solar eclipse will be visible in the sky at 6:53 a.m. ET on Thursday, as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun.

During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks the sun entirely. But Thursday’s spectacle is an annular solar eclipse, which occurs when the moon is too far from Earth – and therefore too small in the sky – to fully cover the sun. That leaves room for a brilliant halo of light, often referred to as a “ring of fire” or annulus, surrounding the moon.

The phenomenon won’t be visible everywhere: Parts of Canada, Greenland, and Russia will have the best views. People in the northeastern US, northern Europe, and northern Asia will be able to see a partial solar eclipse, which will look as if someone has taken a bite out of the sun.

This will be the only annular solar eclipse this year, though it’s the first of two solar eclipses in 2021. The year’s second solar eclipse – a total eclipse – will take place on December 4.

Annular solar eclipses are rare spectacles

A combination of photos depicts a partial annular solar eclipse observed with the use of a solar filter in Siak, Riau province, Indonesia, December 26, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
A partial annular solar eclipse observed with the use of a solar filter.

The glowing “ring of fire” in an annular eclipse is only visible for a short time: anywhere from a fraction of a second to over 12 minutes. Last year’s annular solar eclipse lasted just under 90 seconds.

Depending on your vantage point, you may still be able to see a band of light form along the moon’s edge, then disappear over the span of roughly three hours.

Total solar eclipses usually happen every five to six months, but annular solar eclipses only occur every year or two. That’s because they require a precise set of conditions: To start, the sun, moon, and Earth must all be aligned. The moon must also be close to its apogee, or farthest point from Earth – around 252,700 miles away.

In any solar eclipse, the moon’s shadow carves a path across the Earth. During a total solar eclipse, the darkest part of the moon’s shadow, called the umbra, hits the Earth. But during an annular solar eclipse – when the moon is farther from Earth – our planet instead passes through a part of the moon’s shadow called the antumbra, which isn’t quite as dark.

You’ll need special glasses to stare directly at the eclipse

solar eclipse
Children use special glasses to look into the sky during a partial solar eclipse in Madrid, Spain on March 20, 2015.

It’s dangerous to stare directly at any solar eclipse for the same reasons it’s dangerous to look at the sun: The bright light can damage cells in your retina.

This may ultimately distort your vision, resulting in blind spots or trouble making out shapes. Your eyes can also become watery and sore. Sometimes, these side effects won’t show up for a few hours or even a few days.

So if you want to view Thursday’s solar eclipse in person, NASA recommends wearing a pair of “eclipse glasses” with special solar filters. (The American Astronomical Society has a list of reputable manufacturers.) You can also purchase a pair of welder’s goggles in shade 12 or higher.

Sunglasses aren’t a proper substitute – they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight, according to NASA.

The eclipse will also be livestreamed on Thursday for those looking to watch from home.

After this, the next annular solar eclipse won’t happen until October 14, 2023. In the meantime, the world can look forward to December’s total solar eclipse, plus two partial solar eclipses in 2022.

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