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The potato-shaped Earth that might have been

Illustration for article titled The potato-shaped Earth that might have been

A European Space Agency's satellite has mapped out gravitational pull on earth and constructed an image of the lumpy Earth that might have been - if history had been different.


Click to view There is a popular myth out there that, if the earth were the size of a billiard ball it would be the smoothest ball in the game. Earth may look jagged to people staring at the Himalayas or the Grand Canyon, but even its most startling geographical features are tiny compared to its overall size. This is true. If the earth were shrunk, or a billiard ball enlarged, the ball would be the more jagged of the two. However, the earth could never be used in a galactic game of pool. Although it's smooth, it isn't round.

Earth has upthrusting techtonic plates, tides rising and falling due to the moon, and a bulge around its middle from spinning. But say all that was eliminated. Say the earth was stilled, the moon was cleared away, and enough water was poured over the globe to cover the entire world with a liquid surface. At that point, the earth has to become a true, round ball, right?

Illustration for article titled The potato-shaped Earth that might have been

Wrong. The European Space Agency sent out the Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorers - given the highly-selective acronym GOCE - to gather data about the gravity of the earth. Because the earth's mass is unevenly distributed in its mantle, GOCE measured different gravitational pulls from different parts of the earth. The water would pile up in some places and bottom out in others. The ESA mapped out the expected results of this gravitational variation, coding the lower water levels blue and the higher ones red and orange. Welcome to planet Space Potato.

Via New Scientist and Discover Magazine.

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