a proposal for a journey to the center of the earth

Forget outer space: Let’s journey to the center of the Earth, where “fascinating scientific issues are waiting to be investigated,” says Cal Tech geophysicist David Stevenson. In the May 15 Nature, he proposes a radical scheme to blast a crack in the Earth’s surface and pour in tons of molten iron, along with a grapefruit-sized communications probe. Gravity would send the iron downward, carrying the probe with it. Stevenson estimates the wave of liquid iron would deliver the probe to the Earth’s core in about a week. To create the crack, Stevenson needs “the equivalent of a few megatons of TNT explosive, an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale, or a nuclear device.” He also requires at least 110,000 tons of molten iron — about an hour’s worth of the world’s total iron-foundry production. Constructing a probe that could withstand the rigors of such a journey would also be a challenge. Stevenson writes: “This proposal is modest compared with the space program, and may seem unrealistic only because little effort has been devoted to it. The time has come for action.” Jules Verne would be proud.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 5/27/2003.
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