Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Diamonds And Volcanoes, Oceans And Space

I wasn't sure what to do with this piece on diamonds.  It was interesting - both because of what it said and because it exposed a gap in my knowledge that probably most people know already.  (Did you?)   I tend to think diamonds and their high prices are due to monopoly and marketing.  Young men are cowed into buying sparkling rings by all the hype about diamonds being forever and the made up tradition of diamond wedding rings.  I'm not making this all up, people have studied this.  The article mentions that diamonds weren't associated with weddings until the 1930s.

But I acknowledge that industrial diamonds probably play an important role in society.  From the USGS:
"Because it is the hardest substance known, diamond has been used for centuries as an abrasive in grinding, drilling, cutting, and polishing, and industrial-grade diamond continues to be used as an abrasive for many applications.  .  . Diamond also has chemical, electrical, optical, and thermal characteristics that make it the best material available to industry for wear- and corrosion-resistant coatings, special lenses, heat sinks in electrical circuits, wire drawing, and advanced technologies."
I actually started yesterday's post with the quote below on diamonds.  That's why yesterday's title was  misleading.  The post was going to be bits and pieces of different things that weren't related and not enough to be a post on their own.  But the post evolved and the photos about the Silverlake walk were enough.  So I cut the diamond reference, but forgot to update the title.

So here's what I edited out yesterday:
"Most diamonds come from depths of 90 to 120 miles beneath the Earth’s surface, Smith said. The only reason they are accessible to us today is because they traveled up through the crust millions of years ago, carried along by rare and powerful volcanic eruptions.
But chemical clues culled from the Cullinan diamond and others like it suggest they were forged at even greater depths than most diamonds — about 224 to 446 miles beneath our feet."
- From an LA Times article on what scientists are learning from diamonds about deep in the earth .

I resurrected the post because last night before going to sleep I picked up my next book club volume - Anthony Doeer's All the Light We Cannot See - and read this:
"A diamond, the locksmith reminds himself, is only a piece of carbon compressed in the bowels of the earth for eons and driven to the surface in a volcanic pipe.  Someone facets it, someone polishes it."
I got the same lesson about diamonds and volcanoes from two different sources on the same day.  Did I ever learn that diamonds were spewed out of the bowels of the earth by volcanoes?  Maybe, but if I did, it didn't stick in my conscious knowledge.  But I was getting a message from someone to pay more attention now.

The original LA Times article is about a scientist studying large diamonds for what they tell us about so deep in the earth - a place, the article tells us, scientists can't reach, so these travelers from this distant region of our own planet offer up clues to what else is there.  And the article says there's a lot more minerals than had been previously thought.

This also got me to thinking.  Voyager has travelled about 12 billion miles from our sun,  about how we can send missions to to explore our solar system, but we on earth,  according to the Smithsonian:
"as of January 22, drilling had only reached a depth of 2,330 feet beneath the seafloor."
That's less than half a mile.  The earth's core is 6,371 kilometers (3,958 mi) according to this extreme tech article.    This site has a lot of clickbait, so checked further.  National Geographic says "about 4000 miles" so it's ok.  [There's an interesting graphic representation of traveling to the center of the earth at this BBC page.]

Is it really harder to drill into the earth than to go out into space?  Or is space just more romantic and better sold - like the diamonds - than earth core exploration?  Perhaps it is simply more difficult.  I found lots of articles comparing exploring space to exploring the oceans (where getting to the earth's core seems to begin).  This article from American Progress suggests it IS 'marketing' or at least what has stirred our exploratory imaginations:
"Yet space travel excites Americans’ imaginations in a way ocean exploration never has. To put this in terms [James] Cameron may be familiar with, just think of how stories are told on screens both big and small: Space dominates, with “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” and “2001 A Space Odyssey.” Then there are B-movies such as “Plan Nine From Outer Space” and everything ever mocked on “Mystery Science Theater 2000.” There are even parodies: “Spaceballs,” “Galaxy Quest,” and “Mars Attacks!” And let’s not forget Cameron’s own contributions: “Aliens” and “Avatar.”
When it comes to the ocean, we have “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and Cameron’s somewhat lesser-known film “The Abyss.” And that’s about it."
And since this quote mentions 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I should mention that a key character in All The Light We Cannot See is reading Jules Verne's classic story in braille.

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