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10 Ways Earth Revealed Its Weirdness in 2019

We live on a strange planet. In a solar system of fiery, poisonous hellscapes, icy slush balls and ballooning orbs of gas, Earth is the only planet teeming with sentient, oxygen-breathing life-forms. It is also the only world in the solar system known to be slowly but steadily turning itself inside out through plate tectonics, as the surface crust of the planet dives deep into the mantle. 

But Earth's strangeness goes way, way deeper than that. From its oddball wobble to its wandering magnetic field, here are 10 ways Earth revealed its weirdness in 2019.

Related: 50 Interesting Facts About Planet Earth

Humans are messing up its wobble

earth spinning

(Image credit: agsandrew/Shutterstock)

Our planet doesn't just orbit the sun and spin on its axis; it also wobbles like a top as it spins. That wobble has been shifting, and now we know why: It's our fault. The planet's spin axis has moved a whopping 34 feet (10.5 meters), and two-thirds of that can be attributed to human-caused global warming since 1899. As glaciers (mostly in Greenland) melt and sea levels rise, the lighter, ice-free continents rise as well and the planet's mass gets redistributed. That, in turn, alters how the world wobbles. Of course, humans aren't the sole cause of this wandering wobble; the slow churn of the crust into the mantle is responsible for one-third of the change.

Its magnetic field keeps wandering

Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the solar wind by deflecting the charged particles.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Earth's wayward magnetic field just can't seem to stay put. The planet's prime meridian keeps wandering as magnetic north moves ever onward, traveling from its erstwhile home over the Canadian Arctic toward Siberia. And the field isn’t exactly moving slowly; it has been steadily marching at a pace of about 34 miles (55 kilometers) per year over the last 20 years.

Earth's magnetic field is generated by the mysterious churning of the planet's iron core, and for some reason, the field has been weakening in recent years. As a result, magnetic north is on the move.

Want to visit magnetic north? Set your GPS to 86.54 degrees north latitude and 170.88 degrees east longitude, smack dab in the Arctic Ocean, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information, which released a model of the magnetic field on Dec. 10.

Earth formed this massive geode

A researcher stands inside the crystal-filled cave known as the Pulpi Geode — the largest geode on Earth.

(Image credit: Hector Garrido)

Proving that Earth has a flare for the dramatic, the planet decided to make a massive room of pure crystal, just because. The technical term for this glittering excess is a geode, and it forms when water seeps into hollow rock, allowing water and minerals in the rock to chemically react and form crystals within the rock's interior. 

This particular example, known as the Pulpí geode, is the world's largest, and it can be reached only by descending into an abandoned mine in Spain.

The icy, clear spears of rock are composed of gypsum crystals, formed through the chemical reaction between calcium sulfate and water over eons. But how did the world's largest geode arise? This year, scientists discovered that the geological wonder formed at least 60,000 years ago and that the raw material, the calcium sulfate, that makes up the geode entered the region when the Mediterranean Sea sea drained like a bathtub, roughly 5.5 million years ago. The crystals themselves, however, didn't start forming until 2 million years ago at the earliest, the study found.

It crafted this diamond-in-a-diamond

Inside this small diamond is a freely moving second diamond.

(Image credit: Alrosa)

Clearly, Earth loves its bling. Case in point: this diamond-in-a-diamond. Not content to produce ordinary gemstones, our planet created this Russian nesting doll of minerals. The diamond-within-a-diamond was found earlier this year in a mine in Yakutia, Russia.

But how did this ultrarare double diamond form? It's likely that the tiny diamond formed first and the larger one solidified around it afterward, according to the mining company that found the gemstone. The first diamond could have become coated in a polycrystalline diamond substance, a grit that's not quite the same, structurally, as the fully formed crystal. The outer diamond likely then began forming around that, and then the mantle squeezed and heated the newly formed gem until the diamond grit dissolved. That left the tiny diamond inside the larger diamond shell.

A never-before-found mineral was discovered

a diamond on a rock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Another diamond, this one uncovered in South Africa, also revealed a hidden surprise: a never-before-found mineral. The dark green mineral was discovered at the volcanic site known as as the Koffiefontein pipe, where dark igneous rocks sparkle with hidden diamonds. The discoverers named the mineral goldschmidtite, after famed geologist Victor Moritz Goldschmidt.

But just where did this grain of goldschmidtite come from, and what does it reveal about our weirdo planet? It turns out, the diamond formed in Earth's mantle, the molten middle layer. What's so unusual is the newly discovered mineral's composition: The rock is full of niobium and the rare-Earth elements lanthanum and cerium. That means something strange had to happen to bring these rare elements together, as the mantle is mostly composed of more common elements like magnesium and iron. 

Earth showed off this freaky sunset

an image of a split sunset taken in july in north carolina

(Image credit: Photo courtesy of Uma Gopalakrishnan)

Earth's weirdness was on full display this July when a North Carolina resident snapped a photo of this gorgeous split sunset. Though it looks like a poor Photoshop job, the picture is real. The weird split-screen effect was caused by a cloud sitting low on the horizon on the left-hand side. The setting sun hit the cloud, which cast a shadow and prevented the sun's light from reaching the smaller clouds below their larger counterpart. On the right-hand side, no such cloud blocks the fiery light of the sunset, hence its more intense hue. 

A lost continent is hiding under Europe

Greater Adria as it existed 140 million years ago, before sliding beneath what is now southern europe. The darker green areas depict the land above the water and the lighter green, the land below.

(Image credit: Douwe van Hinsbergen)

We misplace our keys; the planet misplaces its continents. It turns out there's an entire continent, known as Greater Adria, buried beneath Europe. The ancient continent split off from the supercontinent known as Gondwana, which was made up of what is now Africa, Antarctica, South America, Australia and other major landmasses. And this year, researchers created the most precise reconstruction yet of this lost continent, by piecing together ancient rocks from Greater Adria that are still scattered across modern Europe. 

Even during its heyday, Greater Adria wouldn't have been completely above water, but rather would have been a string of islands, researchers said. Adria's demise had begun by about 100 million to 120 million years ago, when the now-lost continent crashed into Europe and began diving below it. Some of Greater Adria was scraped off and crumpled in the process, creating the Alps.

A volcano erupted without warning

An eruption on White Island in New Zealand has left 5 dead and many injured.

(Image credit: New Zealand Police Media Centre)

Earth can be dangerously unpredictable. That was the case on Dec. 9, when the White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted, ultimately killing 17 people. The volcano gave little warning that it was rumbling before the deadly explosion.

But why was the eruption so hard to predict? According to GeoNet, the country's geological hazard-monitoring system, the eruption was "impulsive and short-lived." The volcano is prone to such unpredictable eruptions because its shallow magma chamber heats the surrounding rocks, trapping superheated, pressurized water in their pores. Myriad tiny shifts, such as changes in nearby lake levels or small earthquakes, can release the pressure on this trapped water, suddenly tipping the system toward a phreatic, or steam, eruption. That steam rapidly expands in volume, shattering rocks and sending "hurricanes" of wet ash into the air. 

Earth ruptured in weird ways

a man surveys a crack in the earth from the ridgecrest quake

(Image credit: Mario Tama/Getty)

This summer, the biggest quakes to rattle Southern California in decades ruptured the ground in weird ways. On July 4, a magnitude 6.4 temblor shook Ridgecrest, a remote town in the remote Mojave Desert. Just a day later, a magnitude 7.1 quake ripped the earth 6.8 miles (11 km) away from that spot.

The earthquakes jangled a massive system of small, parallel and perpendicular faults that look a bit like a "hanging shoe organizer," Susanne Jänecke, a geoscientist at Utah State University, told Live Science at the time. 

And the way those faults ruptured was very unusual. The faults in the two quakes were perpendicular to one another, and until this quake,  geologists used to consider such perpendicular ruptures rare. The July 4 quake seemed to rupture the fault system in a complicated, messy way, geologists said.

Together, the quakes suggest that California's seismic action may be moving away from the more well-known San Andreas fault to the more inland, eastern California shear zone, experts told Live Science. 

A massive, quiet fault in California slipped

Garlock fault from above

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In October, a study confirmed that the twin July quakes in Southern California had led to something more ominous.

The quakes caused slipping on the Garlock fault, a so-called "quiet" fault at the Mojave's boundary that had not budged in 500 years. The Garlock fault is capable of producing a magnitude 7.8 temblor. 

Even more disconcerting, the two quakes revealed that faults can "link up" in a network to spread powerful quakes. Previously, seismologists believed that slippage usually occurred on only a single fault and that the maximum possible quake magnitude was determined by the length of that slip boundary. 

The fact that faults can link up makes it much more challenging to predict all possible quakes, seismologists said. 

"It becomes an almost intractable problem to construct every possible scenario of these faults failing together — especially when you consider that the faults that ruptured during the Ridgecrest sequence were unmapped in the first place," Zachary Ross, author of the study, and an assistant professor of geophysics at Caltech, said in a statement.

Originally published on Live Science.

  • GTJohn
    Interesting article but it is not based on facts in some portions. The earth has been warming and cooling for eons and contrary to what some believe, man has littile to do with it. We are just not that important in the grand scheme of things. Also contrary to the article, the earth is not human and does not decide to do things such as making diamonds or creating faults. Those are just natural occurances that occur throughout the universe. I know it must be difficult but humans are just non-iimportant, temporay occupants and will eventually become extinct as changes in the universe occur and natural changes come about. Our climate is controlled by the Sun mainly but also by changes that are happening in the earths interior - things such as underwater volcanos, thermal exhaust vents, ocean life. Above the ground, we still have volcanic activity, decaying plants, wildlife and many other factors that are totally unrelated to the human animal. Just like on other planets, where there are no humans, climates change and things come and go. Would be great to see Live Science actually base their articles on proven science instead of the group-think of the week.
    Reply
  • aquatrek
    I agree 110% - this site is often spoilt by the ingress of political nuances like human enhanced climate change is actually causing anything . Geologically humans dont even exist. Cheers, Steve
    Reply
  • DaveC49
    That we are currently changing the temperature in the lower trophosphere as a result of the burning of fossil fuels over and above the other drivers has been established scientifically. The longer term consequences of this have a much higher degree of uncertainty but that is a reason for exploring and understanding them better not ignorng them. The fact that the earth has warmed and cooled in the past is an irrelevancy compared with the factual evidence that our use of fossil fuels is currently driving a warming of the lower trophosphere and at a slower pace the oceans. In the longer term this may be dominated by events which are undoubtedly beyond our control. However in the shorter term we do have the possibility of reducing the effects of greenhouse gases because we are producing and releasing them and we can decide to stop doing so. The use of the "out of our control" argiument is just a cop out. Of course understanding what happened in past climate excursions may or may not also be of any relevance. The Earth has been continually evolving since it was formed ~4.5 bilion years ago. The initial conditions for a climate excursion today are unlikely to be the same as climate excursions or even necessarily similar to those earlier in the Earth's history. We can however understand the mechanisms and if we do we can introduce different initial conditions - it's called a climate model. Not as certain as waiting until we go extinct but a better decision making tool than ignorance. It is not political nuance to discuss such issues providing the relevant supporting science is presented or referred to. It is equally politcal nuance not to discuss them at all. I note you don't point out what in the article was actually not factual and reference your reasons for believing this to be the case.
    Reply
  • aquatrek
    Its not a case of being ignorant and not studying the planet at all. Not a sane person on the planet is suggesting that. The mix and everchanging greenhouse gas concentrations due to seasonal and climate variability throughout the entire atmosphere is an essential part of the current non-stop scientific studies. Yet, all models are static in their outcomes. They require constant adjustment as new knowledge is learnt. Just recently it was NO2 data. Politically a global tax on CO2 is not likely to be agreed unilaterally. Its the 'alarmism' based on the modelled projections that is also part of the 'political' aspect.
    Reply
  • DaveC49
    The identification and inclusion of the effects of other potential greenhouse gases does not change the situation. Any gas which has an increased refelectance in the LWIR region is going to alter the balance between incoming and outgong radiation from the Earth and increase the temperature and energy retained in the trophosphere and ultimately the oceans. Methane currently at ~1803+-1.2 ppb has increased from 722+-25ppb in 1750 for example, part of that is agricultural and part industrial. One of the difficulties is when Hansen and colleagues first suggested the possibility of global warming based on the study of Venus' atmosphere and the dominance of CO2 in maintaining its abnormally high surface temperatures, we had relativiely little data about Earth. That has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Another significant greenhouse gas is SF6 used in high voltage insulation. It virtually didn't exist before 1937 and doesn't occur in nature. In 1970 it was first measured at 0.03 pptv reached 2.8pptv in 1992 and is increasing at 8.3% pa. It's LWIR reflectance dwarfs CO2. The early climate models didn't incorporate gases that weren't known to be relevant at the time. As we gain more knowledge, why would we not modify the models to incorporate the effects of more greenhouse gases as these effects are going to be cumulative until the reflection back of the LWIR radiation emitted from the earth is 100%.
    The uncertainty in the model predictions is certainly used to advantage by both sides of the political debate. Alarmism is an expected political response from those who perceive that little or no action is being taken. The nuanced scientific position is not much use as a tool for obtaining a change to a policy of treating the problem seriously. The position of denying the problem exists is equally one that is politically useful for those with an interest in maintaining the status quo re fossil fuel usage. Any political system has a degree of inertia and is not going to move in any direction unless considerable force is applied to it (voting power being the relevant force equivalent). Lies are going to be prevalent in the political process (I'm a cynic) from both sides. All we can do is try to expose and limit the influence of those who are propagating lies through promotion of informed debate. There is no guarantee we will succeed.
    Reply
  • aquatrek
    As was admitted earlier the possibility of humans actually altering the greenhouse gasses so that an absolute climate altering change occurs is, in the short term say 50 years, not at all likely. If changes were able to be made before then, or even after, then the lag time affects would be extrapolated out ...... Humankind had better have some good adaptation policies/actions in place if events like the continental low lying coastlines were to be inundated by ocean/sea level rise. Every western nation already knows which coastal areas are at risk. I wish I was going to be here to see how it all pans out.
    Reply
  • Daksh
    that is a great article .. I graps a good knowledge .. I actually do not know about this things .. thanks a lot !!
    Reply
  • OldGuyWhoLikesScience
    GTJohn said:
    Interesting article but it is not based on facts in some portions. The earth has been warming and cooling for eons and contrary to what some believe, man has littile to do with it. We are just not that important in the grand scheme of things. Also contrary to the article, the earth is not human and does not decide to do things such as making diamonds or creating faults. Those are just natural occurances that occur throughout the universe. I know it must be difficult but humans are just non-iimportant, temporay occupants and will eventually become extinct as changes in the universe occur and natural changes come about. Our climate is controlled by the Sun mainly but also by changes that are happening in the earths interior - things such as underwater volcanos, thermal exhaust vents, ocean life. Above the ground, we still have volcanic activity, decaying plants, wildlife and many other factors that are totally unrelated to the human animal. Just like on other planets, where there are no humans, climates change and things come and go. Would be great to see Live Science actually base their articles on proven science instead of the group-think of the week.
    Yes, of course, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the thousands of scientists worldwide who have been studying the causes of climate change for decades are just "group-think of the week," and you, with your vast reservoir of misspellings, know far more. It's probably just an oversight on your part that you didn't cite a single scientific source for your conclusions, right? As to "Also contrary to the article, the earth is not human and does not decide to do things": your naivete is showing. Of course the Earth is not human. It's a way of writing. Anyone with a modicum of sophistication understands that.
    Reply
  • OldGuyWhoLikesScience

    Reply
  • Liam Lucas
    DaveC49 said:
    That we are currently changing the temperature in the lower trophosphere as a result of the burning of fossil fuels over and above the other drivers has been established scientifically. The longer term consequences of this have a much higher degree of uncertainty but that is a reason for exploring and understanding them better not ignorng them. The fact that the earth has warmed and cooled in the past is an irrelevancy compared with the factual evidence that our use of fossil fuels is currently driving a warming of the lower trophosphere and at a slower pace the oceans. In the longer term this may be dominated by events which are undoubtedly beyond our control. However in the shorter term we do have the possibility of reducing the effects of greenhouse gases because we are producing and releasing them and we can decide to stop doing so. The use of the "out of our control" argiument is just a cop out. Of course understanding what happened in past climate excursions may or may not also be of any relevance. The Earth has been continually evolving since it was formed ~4.5 bilion years ago. The initial conditions for a climate excursion today are unlikely to be the same as climate excursions or even necessarily similar to those earlier in the Earth's history. We can however understand the mechanisms and if we do we can introduce different initial conditions - it's called a climate model. Not as certain as waiting until we go extinct but a better decision making tool than ignorance. It is not political nuance to discuss such issues providing the relevant supporting science is presented or referred to. It is equally politcal nuance not to discuss them at all. I note you don't point out what in the article was actually not factual and reference your reasons for believing this to be the case.
    It has NOT been established scientifically, only politically by communists wanting to destroy western nations.
    Reply