'Verneshots' and interplanetary lithopanspermia
Richard Brook Cathcart
J. P. Morgan et al., theorize rapid energy release from sudden cratonic carbon dioxide gas escape ('Verneshot') could eject a suborbital material-jet altering the Earth's biosphere. Here, it is hypothesized that not only could a Verneshot transport a globally dispersed mass of crust-mantle material, it also could shoot life-conveying boulders into interplanetary space, with obvious implications for astrobiology within our Solar System.
William M. Napier demonstrated that life-transporting rock particles, produced from meter-size boulders ejected from Earth by asteroid impact on land, could travel to another Solar System within the Milky Way Galaxy; Napier alleges such particle-transported Earth-life will remain viable for a long period, and that it can become a colony if it falls onto another Earth-like planet.1 In short, Napier asserts life's protective mini-spacecraft – rock particles derived from a broken boulder – are actually formed by the space weather environment that is the threat to life's interstellar travel. Thus, it can now be assumed that interplanetary lithopanspermia is an astrobiological fact of life. However, there are additional flight initiation mechanisms for ejecting life-carrying friable boulders from the Earth-surface, out of the planet's biosphere, and into interplanetary space. These mechanisms may, or may not, be adequate to induce Earth life's interstellar migration.
2. Gun-launched satellites
In Principia Mathematica (1687), Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) discussed the use of a cannon sited on a very high mountain's top that projected above the atmosphere to emplace an Earth-orbiting satellite. Jules Verne (1828-1905) proposed a monstrous Moon Gun in his novel From the Earth to the Moon (1865). The first artificial object to escape Earth, according to Robert R. Brownlee's calculations, was emplaced on 27 August 1957; it was a circular steel mineshaft cover blown into space by the Pascal-B underground nuclear device test explosion in Area U3d of the USA's Nevada Test Site! By the early-1960s, Gerald Vincent Bull (1928-90) had developed and achieved the safe gun-launch as an efficient means to regularly deliver small man-made reporting objects to space near Earth.2 During the last decade of the twentieth century, John Hunter proposed the construction of the "Jules Verne Launcher", a gun capable of shooting rocket-assisted shells into low-Earth orbit.3
Alexander Bolonkin has asserted: "... a gas gun using hydrogen can give a speed of up to 3-4 km/s, which however is not enough for space flight".4 [Earth escape velocity = 11.12 km/s.] It seems he may have been unaware of a gun-launcher devised by Arthur J. Gram, Jr. and Charles S. Smith; their employer The Babcock & Wilcox Company, was assigned USA Patent 3,131,597 on 5 May 1964. The Gram-Smith invention would cause heated freshwater to vaporize, made into super-pressured steam; some of the manufactured steam was then to be reacted with natural gas to form hydrogen,5 some of it was to be sent directly to a high-pressure steam accumulator. When the vertical gun-launcher, installed inside an appropriately sited mountain, was scheduled for discharge, it was expected that steam would compress the hydrogen gas, which would then act to propel the fired object upwards towards interplanetary space. They calculated a 5.4 meter-wide missile could be launched every three days from a gun barrel ~3,000 meter-long. Their missile, never exceeding a launch acceleration of 100 g, could attain an altitude of ~280 kilometers in ~4.5 minutes. The contemplated invention was never constructed because post-Sputnik rocketry advanced so quickly, overtaking and eclipsing what seemed like a cruder (gun-launch) technology. Gram-Smith foresaw missile launch side-effects occurring within the Earth's atmosphere: ignition of the suddenly released anthropogenic hydrogen gas on contact with natural air above the launch tube, and a subsequent massive rain-out of freshwater on the countryside surrounding their subterranean gun.
3. Imitating nature, superficially
On 21 September 1999, central Taiwan suffered an earthquake (7.6 Richter Scale) that killed several thousand persons and caused widespread infrastructure damage costing about $50 billion to repair.6 Slippage on the fault generated so much friction that the groundwater therein turned, almost simultaneously, into steam. Wherever and whenever the steam collected below ground level, and became pressurized before venting to Earth's atmosphere, it caused an unusual geologic phenomenon subsequently. Vented steam shot boulders high into the air! And, the accumulated steam-erupting 'guns' seem to have fissured and fractured the extant somewhat cracked local rocky overburden so that boulders, even some from quite far underground, were forcefully blasted into the sky. 7
4. Lava lite-like Earth-mantle and crust
Lamps called 'Lava Lite', first successfully marketed worldwide by Edward Craven Walker (1918-2000), remain the popular symbol of the Psychedelic '60s. The lamp is a simple contraption involving a light bulb (at its base), a heat transfer coil, a tall clear glass bottle, chlorinated paraffin to form its colorful blobs rising and falling in a water and poly-ethylene glycol background mass.8 It is often used in the classroom to convey the idea of Earth-mantle material plumes that are still deemed an important facet of geology's post-1964 tectonic plate theory.9
As Milan Cirkovic and I pointed out during 2004, a poorly planned crust-penetrating "Mission to Earth's Core" macro-engineering project could instigate a large geologic disruption affecting humankind adversely.10 In our paper we cited the geologic findings of Vladimir Epifanov concerning the 1908 Tunguska event. (The Tunguska event site has been proposed as an "International Park".11) Since our report's publication in 2004, we are informed that others are advancing along similar lines of investigation, alleging also that high-pressure natural gas, followed by fiery detonation in Earth's atmosphere, caused the visible surface havoc at Tunguska, not a small asteroid's impact on land.12
Two earthquakes (each ~6 on the Richter Scale) that shook northern Italy during 1997 were followed by odd aftershocks. It has been proposed that aftershocks in similar geologic settings "...may be driven by the coseismic release of trapped, high-pressure fluids propagating through damaged zones created by the mainshock. This may provide a link between earthquakes, aftershocks, crust/mantle degassing and earthquake-triggered large-scale fluid flow".13 Briefly, the investigators proposed that high-pressure carbon dioxide gas accumulations cause deep-source earthquake aftershocks. Obviously, more direct measurement needs to be done to prove this specific contention. It is proved that gases (natural, carbon dioxide etc.) do collect naturally in subterranean pockets, fissures and fractures. In Italy, Earth-crust traps containing carbon dioxide gas causes measured seismicity.14 It seems reasonable to conclude that the sub-aerial Earth-crust and mantle may be a Lava Lite-like material mass, churning with various fluids and gases that can rapidly affect the Earth-atmosphere by sudden mantle-crust outbursts.
5. Natural Earth-biosphere blasts
Gas eruptions of the kind outlined above are far surpassed, apparently, by pre-Tunguska Event deep-gas outbreaks. Verneshots are "... catastrophic carbon- and sulfur-gas-driven craton-lithospheric explosions fracturing a thick lithospheric column, even perhaps capable of shooting large terrestrial mass jets into suborbital trajectories in a natural analogue to the explosive transport mechanism first discussed by Jules Verne".15 Logically, it seems appropriate to extend this viewpoint into the realm of interplanetary Lithopanspermia, especially following the popularization of the "Verneshot Event Theory" (VET) in New Scientist.16 Whilst still unproved, VET offers astrobiology another vehicle – boulders naturally expulsed to escape velocity by the Earth itself, without the necessity of large asteroid impacts on land – spreading Earth-biosphere organisms throughout our Solar System and, perhaps, even well beyond it. VET must yet be vetted!
6. Directed interstellar lithopanspermia?
It is very unlikely that humans will ever want or need to totally control the Earth's hot material innards. But, eventually, it is likely that humans or their robotic descendents will pilot 'Spaceship Earth' within the Milky Way Galaxy.17 So, as long as we, or some physical form of "we", do inhabit Earth we will have to closely and constantly monitor its subterranean natural and anthropogenic workings in real-time. We may also have to accommodate ourselves to a sudden, possibly predicted, future major deep-gas eruption of the kind envisioned by some geologists. Two event-processes will affect the mechanics of anticipated Verneshots: (1) anthropogenic earthquakes and (2) stress-relief tremors owing to the mantle-crust heating from intentional planetary movements, such as imposed acceleration, occurring in the absence of the Moon.18 As a working human civilization-sustaining profession, macro-engineering still has a long way to go developmentally to become sufficiently useful in these rocky mass shifts of large-scale. It is interesting that the "Lava Lite" is a model for super-computations of the sort required to assess and mitigate VET's postulated past and future Verneshots.19
1. W. M. Napier, "A Mechanism for Interstellar Panspermia", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 348: 4651
2. H. E. Gilreath et al., "Gun-Launched Satellites", Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest 20: 305 (July-September 1999).
3. C. Crabb, "Shooting at the Moon", New Scientist 143: 27 (6 August 1994).
4. A. Bolonkin, "Hypersonic Gas-Rocket Launcher of High Capacity", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 57: 162 (May/June 2004).
5. A. Zuttel, "Hydrogen storage methods", Naturwissenschaften 91: 157 (April 2004).
6. W-M. Wang et al., "Complexity of the coseismic rupture for 1999 Chi-Chi Earthquake (Taiwan) from inversion of GPS observations", Tectonophysics 382: 151 (23 April 2004).
7. S.-W. Huang et al., "Huge rock eruption caused by the 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake in Taiwan", Geophysical Research Letters 30: 1858 (2003).
8. M. McClure, "Lava Lite: A Chemical Juggling Act", Chem Matters (April 1997), pp. 4-7.
9. S. G. Tolley and S.D. Richmond, "Use of the Lava Lamp as an analogy in the Geoscience Classroom", Journal of Geoscience Education 51: 217 (March 2003).
10. M. Cirkovic and R.B. Cathcart, "Geo-Engineering Gone Awry: A New Partial Solution of Fermi's Paradox", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 57: 209 (May/June 2004).
11. G. V. Andreev and N.V. Vasilyev, "The Tunguska 1908 Explosion's Region as an International Park of Studies of the Ecological Consequences of Collisions of the Earth with the Solar System Small Bodies", Earth, Moon, and Planets 72: 467 (February 1996).
12. W. Kundt, "The 1908 Tunguska catastrophe: An alternative explanation", Current Science [India] 81: 399 (25 August 2001).
13. S. A. Miller et al., "Aftershocks driven by a high-pressure CO2 source at depth", Nature 427: 724 (19 February 2004).
14. G. Chiodini et al., "Carbon dioxide Earth degassing and seismogenesis in central and southern Italy", Geophysical Research Letters 31: L07615 (2004).
15. J. P. Morgan, T. J. Reston and C. R. Ranero, "Contemporaneous mass extinctions, continental flood basalts, and 'impact signals': are mantle plume-induced lithospheric gas explosions the causal link?", Earth and Planetary Science Letters 217: 263 (15 January 2004).
16. K. Ravilious, "Four days that shook the world", New Scientist 182: 32 (8 May 2004).
17. V. Badescu and R. B. Cathcart, "Stellar Engines for Kardashev's Type II Civilization", Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 53: 297 (September-October 2000).
18. V. A. Antonov and B. P. Kondratyev, "On the Magnitude of the Earth's Inner Core Displacement", Izvestiya, Physics of the Solid Earth 40: 63 (April 2004).
19. C. A. Pickover, "Lava lamps in the 21st Century", The Visual Computer 10: 173 (1993).