In the spirit of Jules Verne's popular classic Journey to the Center of the Earth, Royal Astronomical Society fellow Whitehouse (The Sun: A Biography, 2005, etc.) describes how modern advances in geology provide insight into the evolution and dynamic structure of the Earth.
“Astronomers often say we are made of stardust and are children of the stars,” writes the author in this enthusiastic review of scientific discovery, “but the Earth is no less our parent.” He explains that probes of the asteroid Vesta by a NASA spacecraft offer clues to the original building blocks of our own planet. At the same time, 4.2 billion-year-old rock samples have been found in western Australia with an isotope structure that appears to indicate the existence of surprisingly cool surface waters on Earth. Whitehouse reviews developments in seismology that have allowed scientists to infer the composition of the Earth below its crust by measuring the propagation of waves during earthquakes. "The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 marked a turning point in our understanding of the Earth," he writes. Collating measurements in different places have given scientists the opportunities to fully understand how earthquakes are created by waves beneath the surface of the Earth caused by shifting masses. In the 1890s, scientists were able to measure the speed at which different below-the-surface waves propagated, and improvement in the sensitivity of measuring devices led to the detection of an earthquake in Japan from a monitoring station in Germany. By the 1950s, advances in material science and quantum physics revealed the existence of new crystalline structures, and a mysteriously rotating iron ball was discovered at Earth's center. The author speculates that this below-the-surface activity not only creates earthquakes and volcanoes, but may also have played a part in the evolution of life by creating the necessary material and environment.
Whitehouse takes readers on a richly rewarding journey through space and time in this scientific travelogue.