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Earthquakes & Astronomy

Date: 03-03-14
Host: George Noory
Guests: John Dvorak, Alan Lightman

John Dvorak, Ph.D. has studied volcanoes and earthquakes for the U.S. Geological Survey around the world and has written for various respected science journals. He discussed the ticking tectonic time bomb known as the San Andreas fault, as well as various volcanoes, and the telescope he operates in Hawaii. Both volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are not really random, nor do they occur like clockwork, but they can start up on very short notice, he said. "Often what happens is there'll be a long period of quiet, then there'll be a whole series of eruptions" or clusters, he said.

Just a moderate eruption in Iceland a few years back caused chaos in Europe, so an eruption of something with the magnitude of the Yellowstone caldera would have far worse effects, he cautioned. In severe eruptions like Pompeii, people were bathed in cloud of extremely hot ash, which burned them from the inside and outside, and their bodies were often found in contorted positions of torment, he detailed. Interestingly though, in non-western cultures such as in Indonesia, volcanoes are viewed as a creative force, Dvorak noted. The Earth is a dynamic planet, and we are who we are because of the geologic activity, he added.

Dvorak has not found evidence for animals having foreknowledge of earthquakes, or that people are able to predict their occurrence with repeatable accuracy. At this juncture, he believes we can only predict the probability of quakes, and his biggest concern is the southern section of the San Andreas fault line running through parts of Southern California, which has a 60% probability of a large quake in the next 30 years. Regarding his current work at the large telescope on the breathtaking summit of Mauna Kea, he said one of the most amazing sights he witnessed was the break-up of a comet.

Concepts of the Universe

First hour guest, author and theoretical physicist Alan Lightman talked about different concepts of the universe. There may be lots of different universes, and we just happen to be on one that allows life as know it, he remarked. The Universe has a temporary quality, with stars burning out, and everything eventually fading away, which contrasts with human beings' longing for permanence, he continued. Lightman also discussed the notion of a 'gargantuan' universe-- our telescopes have picked up light from galaxies that are so far away that its taken billions of years for that light to travel here.

News segment guests: Ryan Mauro, John Lott, Mish Shedlock

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