Planet 'Water'?

March 3, 2008

Our planet has been wrongly named. That was the opinion of a science reporter I once read in a German airline magazine. And flying across the mighty Pacific and then the North Atlantic on a 12,000 kilometre trip back to Europe, I have to agree!
The vast majority of this trip has been over water. Inviting soft-blue summer water in the Pacific. And cold steel-grey winter water over the Atlantic. Or cloud. Which of course is H2O anyway.
We landed on the dot of the island of Fiji (actually made up of hundreds of islands but totally swallowed up in the expanse of the Pacific). We also crossed the American continent, including the snowy tip of Greenland, and for a few minutes cut across that truly green land of Ireland.
But from the air, it was obvious that most of what we call Planet Earth was actually covered in water – three quarters, in fact.
So how about “Welcome to Planet ‘Water'”? Nah! That’d never go down. But think about it. All other planets presumably are made of something like ‘earth’. But none, NONE, so far has been discovered with a single drop of water.
Scientists had only come across it elsewhere in steam or ice form, this science reporter wrote. Earth was the only planet with temperatures favourable for the substance to be liquid.
The famous NASA photo from space has transformed our self-perception of spacecraft Earth, the friendly, hospitable Blue Planet hurtling through space on its finely-tuned orbit. So what makes it blue? Water, of course.
Of all the millions of planets that there must be out there, our’s is unique. Not only in the entire solar system, but also in the entire universe! At least, as far as they know right now.
Now, get this: “And it is only thanks to this tremendous stroke of luck that life came into being here, billions of years ago,” I read.
Luck indeed!
Water was such a very special juice, the writer continued, a simple chemical compound of two hydrogen atoms plus one oxygen atom.
Simple, but with fantastic properties. It accumulated heat in the summer, and gave it off in the winter; an insulant and a cooling agent at the same time. Without water, our planet would alternate between blistering heat and searing cold.
Hydrogen dioxide was also such an excellent solvent for practically all substances. And so ideal for the transport of nutrients in plant and animal. Now, isn’t that just another stroke of luck?
My science expert could have gone on to list a hundred and one ways in which our lives revolve around water. That’s certainly true in both Holland, wrested from the water, and New Zealand, where half the population seems to own a boat! Skiing, fishing, swimming, sailing, snowboarding, surfing-or simply throwing a snowball-are all activities exclusive to Planet Water!
Oh, and wake-boarding (sort of like snow-boarding behind a motorboat). I’ve gotta mention that because my niece Andrea is a world-champion wake-boarder. Make that cosmic-champion! We’re pretty proud of her.
What the reporter did say was this: “No one has a clear idea of how the earth came to its life-giving elixir, but one thing is for certain: it came from outer space. The planet could have gathered it there as steam or ice when, 4.6 billion years ago, it was formed from cosmic dust. Some researchers propose that the water may have erupted from the bowels of the then still extremely hot globe as steam and then condensed.
“Others, however, say that this could never, ever have worked: that the molecules would immediately have been reduced to their individual gassy elements and have dissipated. The skeptics favour other water bearers: comets – great balls of dust and ice which regularly cross the earth’s path. They could have bombarded our globe with ice which then melted to water on its surface.”
So, scientists don’t really know how or why our particular planet has been so blessed!
I still like that ancient Source which doesn’t pretend to give a modern scientific explanation to the ‘how’ question, but does give answers to the ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters…”
And how about: “God so loved the world…”?
We don’t have to have all the answers to reflect on the amazing gift of grace this substance H2O is. As my columnist put it: “when you order your next mineral water, sip it in the knowledge that your drink is a unique cosmic delicacy.”
And, we could add, say a prayer of thanks to the incredibly Intelligent Designer who invented the stuff as an exclusive gift to us!
Till next week,

Till next week,


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