August 13, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Comet-Ocean Theory Gets Another Splash

National Geographic News gave some halfway-enthusiastic press to another recurrence of a theory that circulates from time to time – that earth got its ocean water from comets.  They gave air time to work by Uffe Jorgensen and a team from the Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark that concludes “comets were the culprits” in the crime of delivering water to our planet.  They made their assessment based on iridium counts in some of the world’s oldest rocks in Greenland.  “We may sip a piece of the impactors every time we drink a glass of water,” he said.
    On page 2, NG gave some air time to a critic.  A geophysicist at the University of Chicago wasn’t convinced.  He looked at the study and saw too many estimates.  “I am afraid [they have] stretched their conclusions too far,” he said.  The article ended with Jorgensen holding hands with Chandra Wickramasinghe, the Indian astronomer who thinks comets not only brought water to earth, but also life.  He thinks it was a “remarkable coincidence” that the first appearance of life on earth appeared at the end of the so-called Late Heavy Bombardment, a theoretical epoch when comet or asteroid strikes were common.  Jorgensen calls that period an accident, but agrees on one point: “If it had not happened, there would have been no water on Earth, and no life.

We citizens just sit here passively, listening to our shamans tell their stories of the history of the world.  It has become like Muzak to our ears.  We don’t even pay attention to it.  We may smile when one of them comes up with a witty line, like “we may sip a piece of the impactors every time we drink a glass of water.”  We even enjoy the manufactured controversies that seem to pit one shaman against another, knowing that it’s all rigged, and the outcome is not in doubt—Emperor Charles DearOne will always be vindicated, no matter what.  Phrases from the epic tale The Darwinian Nights, like “Late Heavy Bombardment” and “building blocks of life” are so familiar, they go in one ear and out the other.  It has the comforting lilt of a presumed truth.  Snap out of it.

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