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Frame of Reference - Index

Secundus Stele

Earth - Geology

1) When we talk of nature or 'mother nature' we most often think of the complex organization of living plants and animals. To a lesser extent we might include the fickle climate or the warm summer breeze; rarely would we include the land and oceans in this mental image. Nevertheless, nature is all of Earth, the interrelationship between the land and the oceans, the plate tectonics, the continental shift causing the dynamic of pressure and heat to blend the essential elements that probably gave birth to primitive organisms, eventually leading to the evolution of all species of animals and man. Understanding Earth as life giver reminds us that Earth is alive, unlike the other planets in our immediate Solar System. Earth's thin and mobile crust and sturdy atmosphere yield the keys to life as we know it.

2) Imagine the vision of this blue, peaceful planet from Moon. This is a popular portrait of our unique Earth that disguises its fiery origins. Earth was formed from 'star dust' some 4.56 billion years ago, only shortly after the center of a rather smallish swirling cloud of primarily hydrogen and helium was drawn together, collapsing and spinning into a disk shape, compressing and heating under increasing pressure until a nuclear fusion-reaction started. Thus was born a new star, Sun, and in this same way stars are being born continuously throughout Universe. 99% of the mass of this cloud was drawn into the increasingly hot vortex while the remaining gases and elements orbiting this disk began to aggregate and differentiate. According to this 'nebular theory' the particles of solid matter gradually collected into 'planetesimals,' tiny planets about 6 miles across. Whirling and colliding and re-accumulating, these fragments formed into 'planetoids' which gradually combined into planets and numerous satellite moons. Earth is the third planet from that modest sized star in a solar system near the edge of the already well formed Milky Way galaxy.

3) According to Shinto scripture, after some preliminary states when Creation came to the stage of solid matter, a pair of Kami (gods), Izanagi and Izanami, procreated all the existing Universe (or at least Earth), both what we see and what we cannot. (With a little imagination one can relate these Kami to matter and energy.) The Sun-Goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, was the mother of these siblings that in turn are given credit for creating many features of Earth, and less directly there is a relationship to the origin of Man. This legend is one of many describing the origins of Earth, but unique in that Man is essentially a peer to Earth and the gods.

4) Close to the protosun the planetesimals that formed Earth were essentially rocky material, while more distant it was much cooler, and ice collected with debris to form the outer planets. By some, Pluto is discredited as merely a large ice ball (a none too stable comet) and not a planet. Lighter material would have been 'sifted' by the solar winds, and thus the concentration of iron in Mercury, Venus and Earth is higher, and the concentration of water increases beyond Earth. The outer planets (past Mars) grew larger because ice was more plentiful than heavier materials (Jupiter alone contains 99% of all planetary mass) in the original cloud. As the planets grew they attracted the remaining hydrogen and helium from the disk nebula and captured this into their atmospheres. Does this mean that there is water inside Mars? (see verse 20)

5) According to 'Conditioned Genesis' of Buddhism, nothing in the world is absolute. Everything is conditioned, relative, and interdependent. This is the Buddhist theory of relativity. This doctrine is given in a short formula of four lines: When this is, that is; This arising, that arises; When this is not, that is not; This ceasing, that ceases. This explains the principle of existence and continuity of life on Earth, and its cessation, without the intervention of what we know as intelligence. As simple as this sounds it is profound and contradicts the idea that Earth and Man happened by chance. This suggests the robust nature of our creation by physical laws that when conditions are right must produce the same results anywhere in Universe. It is difficult to determine which aspects of Universe could not have been otherwise and which resulted from chance association. Imagining alternative universes, the work of science fiction (and some religions), is enlivened by the possibility that other universes may actually exist. Closer to home, on Earth, this principle of causation seems to apply, to the extent that it makes sense and explains anything at all.

6) For the first billion years of Earth's development it was a molten ball, gradually cooling and accumulating asteroids and comets. It was large enough to retain a gaseous atmosphere (unlike Moon) shielding the surface to protect the accumulating oceans from Sun's extreme ultraviolet radiation. This first atmosphere (similar to Venus) could not have supported life as we know it today, but in the intense pressure and extreme heat near the cracks in the crust 'organic' gases were transformed and mutated into the building blocks, molecules, peptides to form DNA structures and strangely, self-replicating life. Much of Earth's water came from the volcanic steam and cracks in the crust forming on the surface. It is a long step (even a leap of faith) to assume that in an atmosphere containing hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen these elements could combine to create life that replicates itself. All the principal elements now found in organisms were abundant. In 1953 Stanley L. Miller, a graduate student at the University of Chicago under the direction of Harold Urey, Nobel Prize-winning physical chemist, performed an experiment on the origin of life. Miller constructed a mechanism to circulate steam through a mixture of ammonia, methane and hydrogen. This steam-gas mixture was subjected to a high-energy electrical spark and condensed to liquid; the cycle was repeated continuously. After a week of repeatedly being cycled through the gases the condensed water became deep red and turbid. This water was determined to contain a complex mixture of amino acids, the basic structural units of proteins. The objective was to synthesize the chemical constituents of life under primitive Earth conditions.

7) The prevalence of carbon dioxide dictated that the first life on Earth utilized CO2 and exhausted Oxygen. Only gradually was there an accumulation of more water, H2O and O2 into proportions known today (carbon-dioxide is .033%). The carbon was pulled out of the atmosphere, incorporated into tissue, shells and skeletons and deposited in layers on the mantel of the already well formed planet. With too much carbon-dioxide, Earth would not have cooled and the oceans could not have cooled the lava flows that oozed out of the Mid Ocean Ridge. Now, three-fourths of Earth's surface is covered with water, masking the motion of the solid plates that migrate about 1-6 inches each year, shift, create heat in the ocean, mountain ranges and/or plunge into subduction zones to be remelted and reused. All this turmoil makes Earth distinct. (Not-trivia: The longest mountain range? The Mid-Atlantic ridge under water is 12,240 miles, 19,700 km.; compared to the Andes 5,500 miles long, 8,850 km.)

8) The Mandan nation of Native American Indians (who resided in the upper reaches of the Missouri River) had a ceremony called o-kee-pa. This was acted out each year to placate the spirits of the waters which the Mandans believed had once flooded Earth. The elaborate o-kee-pa rites ended after young men offered their flesh to the spirits in an ordeal of torture and amputation. Some dancers impersonated animal spirits, snake which made rain, the beaver representing food. Others were painted to symbolize night and day to re-create the tribal myth of a time in the distant past when Earth was born and the light replaced darkness. In the o-kee-pa torture rite, the bravest men hung from rawhide ropes attached by pegs skewered under their flesh. When they regained consciousness they dragged themselves to a masked warrior who chopped off one or two fingers. The celebrants were then expected to run a circle outside the medicine lodge and those who withstood the pain and loss of blood the best were candidates for future leadership. The creation of Earth is given a proper tribute by the Mandan. We all too casually take Earth's role in creation for granted in our well formed, modern world.

9) The system of plate tectonics is (likely) absent on Moon and other planets (although it is possible that tectonics and/or volcanic features have operated on both of our closest planets, on Moon, and on at least one of the moons of Jupiter, Io). The crust, or lithosphere, is about three miles thick under the oceans and about 20 miles thick under the continents. This thin crust floats on the mantle, a region of hot, dense rock that extends 1,800 miles inside Earth to a core of molten iron alloy. That viscous layer surrounds a solid core of similar material and the motion of the molten iron produces the strong magnetic field surrounding Earth. Mercury, Jupiter and Sun have similar magnetic fields. Mercury is one-sixth the size of Earth and its magnetism suggests it has, or at one time had a molten core. Solar magnetism is concentrated in Sunspots and visible during lunar eclipses. Mars and Venus have almost no magnetic field. Venus has an atmosphere, but other crucial ingredients are missing for the development of life. The atmosphere is waterless and thick containing carbon dioxide (94%) and sulfuric acid clouds that pressure the surface 90 times heavier than Earth's atmosphere creating a heat trap. Both the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA plan to revisit Mars in 2003. One objective will be an attempt to locate subsurface water to a depth of a few kilometers and analyze rocks for organic matter, water and aqueously deposited minerals. (Better luck this time!)

10) Obviously water is an essential ingredient for the life (as we know it) of both animals and plants.

"The Mirror"

Between the woods the afternoon
Is fallen in a golden swoon.
The sun looks down from quiet skies
To where a quiet water lies,
And silent trees stoop down to trees.
And there I saw a white swan make
Another white swan in the lake;
And, breast to breast, both motionless,
They waited for the wind's caress...
And all the water was at ease. (A. A. Milne, 1924)

11) Water vapor plays a great part in determining weather on Earth, and this is the primary way we are conscious of the affect the Atmosphere has on human life. Weather occurs in the Troposphere, up to about 36,000 feet. Anyone who is a frequent flyer knows that there can be plenty of turbulence even at that elevation because every part of the air in the Troposphere is in motion. The air is fickle, at once apparently tranquil, the next day stormy with winds that can exceed 200 miles per hour. The air is damaging, it erodes the land, lashes the surface with rain and clogs cold regions with snow. Yet the Atmosphere is man's shield against danger, a veritable protective ocean of air is above us without which we could not exist. Water is the most active greenhouse gas and has a larger effect on global weather patterns than even carbon dioxide. How does water in our atmosphere relate to the rising concentrations of carbon dioxide? Will water vapors enhance global warming or counteract it? Are rising Earth temperatures increasing the frequency and severity of storms? All of the atmospheric water completely recycles about 33 times per year -- the water cycle. The devil is in the details, as they say, because the more we learn about the factors contributing to both short and long term climate changes, the less inclined we are to predict because there are more factors and more possibilities.

12) There are those who find the physical organization of Earth just the surface manifestation of a complex interrelationship of forces and forms.

"Into the physical world of the earth sphere reach the form, life and light worlds of the sphere, and through and around all of these are the spheres of water, air and fire.

The physical plane of the human physical world exists in four states of matter: the radiant, airy, fluid, and solid states. The solid state in its radiant-solid, airy-solid, fluid-solid, and solid-solid substates, makes up the visible, physical universe. The fluid, airy, and radiant states of matter of the physical plane of the human physical world are invisible and are at present beyond the reach of chemistry and physics. In other words, all that is subject to the investigation by the natural sciences is the solid state with its four substates, of the physical plane of the physical world, and that only in small part..." (Harold W. Percival, Thinking and Destiny, 1946)

This explanation is no more un-intelligible than the explanation given by quantum mechanics and relativity for most people. The suggestion of additional dimensions is probably worthy of further consideration, if it weren't for the impossibility of conceptualizing these without the help of abstract mathematics.

13) Most of the weight in the galaxies does not shine, nor is it observed by any other wave band we know. This matter is know to exist because of the measurable force of gravity beyond the edge of the central bright region is greater than can be accounted for by the shinning mass alone. This excess matter is called 'Dark Matter.' All spectral lines of hydrogen, all the matter found by its radio or X-ray signatures, is only a small part of what is there. There is ten times as much matter in galaxies as what is seen and measured by astronomers. We know how unique Earth is, and that rare and specific geophysical conditions predisposed Earth to develop life leading eventually to the evolution of Homo sapiens. Still, there is a huge missing piece to the puzzle of Universe. This undefined Dark Matter, which includes neutrinos passing constantly through Earth, might exercise influence on us just as it does on the rotation of Sun around the spiral of Milky Way. (Maybe this is what Astrology is about?) All the circumstances of air, water, earth and fire had to be just right for Earth to come into being; so these were and we are, and we are very exceptional in the known Universe. And the more we learn the more questions we seem to have.

14) A Scottish doctor, James Hutton, living in the 18th century AD, was compelled to ask these kind of questions. He was also a prominent chemist and farmer, and is credited with being the father of Geology. He studied closely the layering of rock in Scotland's provinces, the limestone, sandstone and shales that gave evidence of being laid down as soft sediments that settled to the bottom of an ancient sea. These sediments compacted and slowly turned to stone by the pressure of further layers of sediment settling above. Heat generated within Earth forces molten lava to the surface heaving this bedrock above sea level to form mountains. He was impressed that rain and wind wear against these levels of rock and erode bits and pieces which in turn find their way to the bottom of the sea to begin the process again. In 1788 he presented his findings to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, concluding: "The result, therefore, of this physical inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning -- no prospect of an end."

15) Hutton's conclusion conflicted strikingly with the prevailing view (still held by some religions) that Earth is much younger than scientists calculate. Archbishop James Ussher, Primate of Ireland, calculated the age of Earth by totaling the generations of men and women mentioned in The Bible, beginning with Adam and Eve. Ussher claimed Earth was created just 6,000 years before, on the evening of October 22, in 4004 BC, to be precise. Still there are those who believe Earth was put together much as one might lay out a landscaped garden, and that it has changed little since, except perhaps during the Great Flood. One can see in the work of Ussher the same compelling need to have answers, and, for both men, a certain arrogance to believe dogmatically the answers developed.

16) Earth's temperate climate is due primarily but not entirely to its proximity to Sun. It is neither extremely far (thus not composed of ice) nor extremely near, which would burn off the life giving gasses. A layer of ozone (O3) adds the final protective layer around Earth and creates the built in thermostat. This ozone screens out most of Sun's ultraviolet light which would otherwise kill living cells. Ozone is unstable at lower levels of the atmosphere (although it is a factor in air pollution) even though it is a common product of lightning. It only exists permanently at the right altitude with lower pressure and lower temperatures in Stratosphere surrounding Earth. In a zone that begins about 10 miles (16 km) above the equator and 7 miles (11km) above the temperate latitudes and closer over the poles, the temperature is relatively constant at -56 degrees C. This level extends to about 19 miles (30 km). Above that the Mesosphere, remarkably, becomes warmer to 2 degrees C, because some of Sun's heat is trapped there. It takes all the unique features of Earth integrated and sustained to be the incubator for life, a delicate balance that is 'probably' repeated many times in the hundreds of billions of galaxies of Universe.

17) Cosmic rays bombard Earth continuously along with other particles. It is so important to know more about the composition of these particles and waves that the European Space Agency scheduled a launch of a satellite to study gamma-rays in September 2001. The International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) should provide many answers and, as always, raise many more questions. Scientists will be able to analyze the composition and image celestial gamma-ray sources, report on violent explosions, the formation of elements, black holes and supernovae. This effort is expected to help identify new gamma-ray sources.

18) When man first described Earth, he saw himself as the center of Universe. Later discoveries put a lie to this supposition when Earth was proven to be round not flat, about 7,927 miles in diameter, part of a single star solar system along with eight other planets of varying sizes traveling around our magnificent Sun. Earth being the third planet, with an average distance of 93,003,000 miles from Sun and whizzing around at a rate of 30 kilometers (about 18.5 miles) per second, more than ten times faster than the fastest bullets and artillery shells. Even at this frenetic pace, Earth maintains a unique atmosphere capable of both supporting and defending life. The solar system is part of Milky Way, a galaxy with a radius of some 50,000 light years. Together with these 100 billion suns we reside in the Local Group part of the Virgo Super-cluster of galaxies. Here we are inside an infinite expanse of Universe, probably, which brings us to the original question about the center of Universe. Each conscious human can make this claim legitimately because Universe extends infinitely far in all directions, from each of us the same. A science teacher asked my step-daughter this question for a home work assignment: "Where is the center of Universe?" I told her, I would pay her a dollar if she answered the question saying that She is the center, even though she knew the teacher would mark her wrong. She did, the teacher did and I did. My intention was to expand her self-esteem, frame of reference and make a memorable point about infinity.

19) Earth's Atmosphere is a true work of art. This Atmosphere, lightly diffused with many gaseous elements, most notably oxygen (and ozone), hydrogen, nitrogen and even carbon, serves many purposes (aside from containing the air we breath) essential to man and all living things. It heats and burns off thousands of meteors that would otherwise collide with the surface each day. Imagine how difficult life would be dodging these bullets interminably, as if dodging lightning from the clouds wasn't bad enough, at least it's predictable. The Atmosphere graciously absorbs most of the ultraviolet light that causes skin cancer at increasing rates and the remaining light is so potent that it even destroys the ubiquitous, unctuous plastic waste. Earth's Atmosphere keeps us warm during the night by insulating and conserving heat gained in the day; a cloudy night in the winter is usually warmer than a crystal clear starry night (although given the choice I opt for the starry night). The Atmosphere moves water around the surface, taking evaporation from the oceans and putting rain in the mountains and occasionally in the deserts, causing erosion, creating farm land and hosting all kinds of weather, some of which becomes lethal to man. The most famous extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago between the 'Cretaceous and Tertiary periods,' is reasonably well confirmed because traces of an asteroid that struck Earth have been discovered at many sites. This traumatic event would have changed the atmosphere drastically; first cooling Earth's surface, enlarging the polar ice area enough to reduce sea level, killing many acquatic shore animals and fish; then overheating with excess CO2, delivering a lethal blow to many other species.

20) Widespread glaciation occurred at least twice: in the 'Precambrian era' the first time around 2.2-2.3 billion years ago, and the second in the late 'Proterozoic era' around 700 million years ago. The evidence of this ancient glaciation shows that Earth's climate has been much the same for a very long time. These glacial events, as recent as 20 thousand years ago, are largely influential in creating characteristics that we see on Earth's terrain. Mars, on the other hand, has no climate as such, because it has little or no atmosphere, no water vapor, etc. But now it is believed that Mars has water under the soil surface (as does Moon). New channels of what appear to be eroded canyons have appeared at the planet's extremes, both north and south of 30 degrees latitude, each event carved on the cold, shaded sides of slopes. Any water that might appear on the sunny sides of hills would evaporate almost instantly. Moisture that seeped out in shadowed areas would form a temporary ice rind that would last until the pressure of upwelling water behind it caused it to burst. When it did, there would be a sudden downward gush that would leave precisely the kind of channel spotted by Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. Many of the 65,000 images, taken over a three year period since the spacecraft has been circling Mars, show these kind of erosion formations. Earthbound adventurers are familiar with the deep, dry gullies and canyons cut by flashfloods in the middle of desert environments. The same structural geology on Mars comes as somewhat of a surprise, however.


Good Morning.
Look east toward the dim pink
glow as the early morning sky
looses its Star quality.
Its gestation continues as the display
of color brightens.
Your mind is lazy from sleep
so linger, enjoy this moment of
If you watch carefully you can
gain a new perspective.
Can you feel Earth's motion?
As the horizon drops ever so slowly,
Falling lower, you feel your height,
Briefly anxious, you fear the descending
This is the moment of Truth.
Our Sun does not rise,
Earth and you fall forward
into its gaze.
The pink shading encircling the globe
erupts into an orange-yellow epiphany as you
accept this motion and
acknowledge Earth's rotation.
The descent broadens as the pale
yellow turns to blue,
the day matures and your
sensation of movement fades.
You have in this moment
perceived yourself as part of Universe.
You have felt the fear and humility
only your species can comprehend.
Does this simple truth awaken other
questions about who you are?
Why you're here?
These questions come to mind
as easily as the erroneous concept
of the rising Sun.
You are not caused To Be by an
unseen force any more than
Sun rises. You are
a self, a conscious, in
mathematics you are a given.
So the Why? does not apply.
Asking why is an anachronism of
the night waiting for Sun to Rise.
Ask instead: 'What' and accept the new
day as a canvas upon
which you can create your life's beauty
and do what you will.
Don't deny the fear, the anxiety of creating
your own unique answer.
Accept humbly the glory of your potential.
Find in the splendid colors of the early
morning sky the inspiration
to create a thrilling life, a
masterpiece when freely shared
with the ones you love. (IJ - August 30, 1998)
22) Earth has a mass about one part in 300,000 of that of Sun. Sun is huge too; the volume of its fiery sphere is a million times the volume of Earth (thus less than one third the density). No wonder Sun has been the object of worship by so many primitive tribes. The mysteries of Universe are open for all to wonder and speculate (but creating religions has become superfluous). There is more to nature than meets the eye both inside Earth and beyond Sun. Where once we thought Earth's orbit was fragile and tenuous, now it appears that many, if not all galaxies have stars that support planets in orbit, as a law of nature. The probability that some of these mimic the conditions on Earth in sufficient degree to support life, is certainty.

23) In Shinto (Japanese nature religion) man is bound with "Kami" (gods) by both biological and spiritual ties. They share the same divine blood that flows through animals, plants, minerals and all other things in Nature. Man, land, mountain, river, valley, mist, tree, grass are "hara-kara," out-of-the-womb-of-the-Divine-Mother-born-brethren [Sun-Goddess]. In their relationship to Nature, this means that the Japanese feel a vivid kinship with plants and animals. The so called 'inanimate universe' is also connected to Man -- "mono no aware," an instinct to feel sympathy with all creatures and Earth. This religion is visceral to the core of an adherent, with the Japanese territory and the Sun-Goddess being as brother and sister. The national flag is more than the 'rising sun,' it symbolizes both the land and the Sun-Goddess that are intrinsically connected to the essence of each individual in society. (see Quintus Decimus Stele: Religions, verse 14)



There is a land out by the western sea
Where the fiery sun sinks in a flaming bed.
Where life in abundant forms has clothed the earth
With a garment of perpetual green.
Here a mighty river has filed its channel
Through the ageless rock of the Cascade Range.
High above the silver, tree fringed stream;
Leaping with joy in its new found freedom;
Splashing downward o'er mossy rock and flowering bush,
Plunges beautiful Multnomah Water Fall.
Its silvery tresses streaming through the dark green of the firs,
To merge its turbulent water with the quiet current
Of the majestic river flowing slowly onward to the sea.
This is my land, the land of trees. (Joseph Reed Jacob, circa 1948)

25) The hero of the modern revolution in Geological Science is the German scientist Alfred Wegener. He was an explorer/scientist/adventurer who was trained as a meteorologist and pursued his work aggressively. He set a record in 1906 with a 25 hour balloon flight and crossed Greenland with horse drawn sleds making weather observations during two harrowing winters. He proposed that the two continents South America and Africa were once joined and had been split apart 200 million years ago "like pieces of cracked ice flow." The pieces, he said, are still drifting apart today. Three hundred years earlier, Sir Francis Bacon wondered about the coincidence of coastlines, and mentioned this in his Novum Organum. Wegener, however, was the first to investigate the drift and supply evidence to verify his claim. He identified a mountain range that runs east to west in south Africa and another that matches it in Argentina. A plateau in Brazil corresponds neatly to another in Africa's Ivory Coast. Fossils of a primitive fern, Glossopteris, are common in certain parts of both Africa and Brazil. These ferns are found in India, Australia and Antarctica and this is evidence of the former continent Pangaea. Wagener's book, The Origin of the Continents and Oceans first published in 1915, was controversial and ignored by the scientific community until the 1940s. With the development of 'sonar,' it became possible to map the ocean floor. In 1947 the Mid-Atlantic Ridge was mapped and described as the seams of a giant baseball. A steep and narrow valley divided mountains underwater that moved apart at a rate of ten centimeters each year and were the focus for many earthquakes. The rocks taken up from the ocean floor were young, not older than 150 million years. (Compare this to rocks in Australia at 3.5 billion years old.)

On to part 2 of Secundus Stele
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