At the Beginning of the Universe…

there was geology.

Oh, I know, some folks will tell you it was physics. Yes, there was that, too. And there might be a few who argue for chemistry, and we’ll grant them chemistry. Of course those things were there. Can’t have a universe without them. Not a universe like ours, anyway.

But geology was hiding within those things. As stars came together, as they began forging elements, as those elements exploded out into the universe and gravity gathered them together again, geology, like life, looked at all that lovely physics and chemistry and said, “Yum! I can do something interesting with that.” And oh, it did.

People think of geology as an earth science, and yes, earth’s where humans figured it out. Right there in the name, geo, planet earth. But other planets have rocks. And the elements that formed the earth were, like the elements that form us, born in the stars. Biology will still be biology when it’s applied to aliens. Geology is still geology when applied to other worlds, and we’ve beaten life twice now: there were rocks before critters, and we’ve gotten our hands on space rocks before space critters. So there.

So that post I linked to up above, that’s a post I want you to go read. Because my friend Ryan at Glacial Till, who is doing absolutely scrumptious things with meteorites, he’s teaching you geology from the beginning. Right from the beginning of time. And there’s another lesson within, one he didn’t state explicitly but is there, like geology at the beginning of time, hiding in plain sight all along. And the lesson is this:

You don’t have to give up the stars to study the earth.

You wanna be a geologist but study outer space? You can do that. Absolutely, you can. What are the inner planets called? Rocky planets, thankyouverymuch. What are asteroids? Rocks. Big ol’ space rocks. Moon’s got rocks. There’s rocks everywhere, all over solar systems, and sometimes, those rocks land on us. Sometimes, we land on them.

So yes, you can have your geology and whatever else you like. You can have your geology, and your astronomy, and your physics, and your chemistry, and your biology, too. You can have it all. Why do you think I love geology so very, very much? Because it’s got everything.

So get over to Ryan’s place. Let him show you where geology began, and where it will take you next.

Ryan's First Meteorite: "NWA 2965- Exposed interior of the meteorite. Also shown is a polished sample from a different portion of NWA 2965." Filched with permission of author.


At the Beginning of the Universe…

14 thoughts on “At the Beginning of the Universe…

  1. 2

    Geologists rock, hur hur hur. No, seriously, we do. If you ever find yourself in Perth and want to talk to a local get in touch and I’ll point you in the direction of some seriously sexy strata. Maybe even mine tours if I can wrangle it

    Ps – welcome to FtB!

  2. 3

    I love the post hoc excuse: “Geology was hiding in there, really!”

    But anyway, yes, good points. Just like it would be nice to have more than one system in which life emerged if you want to study life, it is nice to have more than one system in which there is geology. The differences is that for geology, a) there are close by planets with it and b) it is probably possible to study some aspects of geology far far away more easily than various aspects of life, so even extra solar planets will be subject to study.

    Speaking of extra-solar planets (meaning planets in other solar systems) I think we now believe that there are as many planets floating around not really in any star’s orbit than there are in orbit, or at least a lot more than we originally thought. Maybe some day an interesting one will float by….

  3. 4

    Well, the more modern synthesis is that subjects like geology, oceanography, and meteorology are grouped together under the title of “Earth System Sciences” – in which biology also plays a fundamental role. Another word for it is “planetary sciences.”

    This is a refreshing turn for the better, because the academic enterprise in the U.S. suffers from over-specialization, generally speaking – but nature doesn’t care at all about the artificial academic divisions within universities and federal funding agencies.

    However, consider something like soil development – it’s due to geological, ecological, and meteorological factors. (In a broader sense, a mix of physical, chemical and biological processes are what give rise to the various soil types seen around the world).

    So, don’t leave biology out of it – especially the microbes. See for example Introduction to Geomicrobiology, Dr Kurt Konhauser

  4. 9

    As a student of astrobiology I was blown away by Hazen’s description of some 2/3 of minerals being induced by the biosphere.

    Hazen has, IIRC, a mineralogy stairway with some 7 steps, from cosmological nucleosynthesis onwards. Mars would be next to Earth, (relatively) wet chemistry giving 1/3 of minerals.

    As discussed here, a lot of potential for anything and everyone.

  5. 10

    And now I remember that he characterized “the boring era” of Earth biosphere (nothing much seem to have happened between the advent of oxygenated atmosphere and enough oxygen to support multicellulars) as boring mineralogically too, at his Linnaeus Lecture here in Uppsala. Nothing much new I take it, though if the two phenomena was correlated was not clear yet I think.

  6. 14

    I’ll read Ryan tomorrow — well, later today, it’s 2:20 am where I am and waaaay past time to go to bed — but I can’t help sharing this. I use first names in this description because my geology professors prefer to be addressed by their first names, and because I want to give them some anonymity. Dave is team-teaching an undergraduate, upper-division geochemistry class with Jonathan.

    Jonathan started out the course (Dave attends every lecture) with four classes about stars: how the chemistry of fission and fusion work. Dave was fascinated, and delighted to have some concrete examples put to generalities he’d read long ago. Dave, an ex-student, and myself went to lunch last week, and the three of us spent the entire hour with Dave drawing diagrams on napkins. He barely got time to eat his own lunch. By the end of the meal, ex-student and I were fascinated too.

    Dave will probably retire next year. It just shows if you have the right attitude, you can never stop learning.

Comments are closed.