Excursion to the Center of the Earth

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

I really need to start keeping a list of my favorite ludicrous plans, if for no other reason than so I can say, "This is my absolute favorite ludicrous plan," and not have it be just hyperbole. That said, I've been working for mental_floss in some capacity since I graduated college in 2004. In that time, I have read about a lot of grandiose, impractical ideas. But this is one I go back to when I'm having a bad day and need cheering up.

In 2003, CalTech planetary scientist David J. Stevenson proposed a way to send a probe down into the depths of the Earth. Published in Nature, "Modest Proposal: Mission to the Earth's Core" laid out a detailed plan for inter-Earth investigation--it was brilliant, theoretically possible (or so I'm told) and only briefly mistaken for an April Fool's joke. For your convenience, I have taken the liberty of breaking Stevenson's proposal down into four steps.

Step 1: Get $10 billion. Surprisingly, this is not the hardest part.

Step 2: Find a nation willing to take one for the team, by letting you blast a 984-foot-deep hole in their country with a nuclear bomb.

Step 3: Pour in enough molten iron to fill your new crevasse. Hopefully, gravity should now kick in, pulling the heavy metal toward the center of the Earth and lengthening your original hole at a rate of about 10 miles per hour. At that speed, your iron river should reach the Earth's core in a week or so. And, naysayers, never fear. According to Dr. Stevenson's calculations, high pressures below ground would reseal the earth after the iron passed by--preventing any awkward uncloseable chasms.

Step 4: Before the flow of iron gets moving too fast, toss in a probe. For maximum effectiveness, said probe should be able to withstand temperatures surpassing 3000° Fahrenheit and pressures 1000 times greater than the bottom of the deepest ocean. It also has to have a strong enough signal that it can reach the center of the Earth and still transmit some data back to you. As you go through the bidding process, do remember that you get what you pay for. And, in case American manufacturing has lost its edge, let's go with an unmanned probe. Better safe than sorry.

Image is courtesy Michael Rogalski.