In 1912 Alfred
Wegener proposed a controversial theory about how the Earth’s land masses
formed. He said the great continents had once formed a single landmass, which
had broken up over time. The idea went against all conventional ideas, and was
It took the
work of young cartographer Marie Tharp to prove him right.
In 1947, she
worked on a team that were running expeditions around the world, mapping the
ocean floors with echolocation. However, Marie wasn’t allowed on the missions because
women were seen as ‘bad luck’…
But the work
she did back at the university was invaluable. Converting endless data into
detailed profiles, she realised that the ocean floor isn’t a flat, featureless
plane, but a complex, varied landscape.
importantly, she spotted a long, V-shaped valley in each of her profiles: a
rift valley that supported Wegener’s theory, formed by two land masses moving
apart, splitting the ocean floor in two.
But even with
this evidence, Tharp’s ideas were dismissed as ‘girl talk’.
realised that her profiles tied in with worldwide earthquake maps being
developed by a colleague.
evidence started to convince some sceptics, but not all. Renowned explorer
Jacques Cousteau was so unconvinced that he sent an expedition to film the
ocean floor and clear things up once and for all. What did his footage show?
Exactly what Tharp had predicted.
steadfast determination had paved the way for Wegener’s continental drift
theory to gain traction. As the tide of opposition waned, it gave birth
to our modern understanding of plate tectonics and secured Tharp’s
position as one of the most outstanding cartographers of the 20th century.
“If there is energy within the substance it can only come from without. This truth was so manifest to me that I expressed it in the following axiom: ‘There is no energy in matter except that absorbed from the medium…’ If all energy is supplied to matter from without then this all important function must be performed by the medium.”
“When radio-active rays were discovered their investigators believed them to be due to liberation of atomic energy in the form of waves. This being impossible in the light of the preceding I concluded that they were produced by some external disturbance and composed of electrified particles. My theory was not seriously taken although it appeared simple and plausible. Suppose that bullets are fired against a wall. Where a missile strikes the material is crushed and spatters in all directions radial from the place of impact. In this example it is perfectly clear that the energy of the flying pieces can only be derived from that of the bullets. But in manifestation of radio-activity no such proof could be advanced and it was, therefore, of the first importance to demonstrate experimentally the existence of this miraculous disturbance in the medium. I was rewarded in these efforts with quick success largely because of the efficient method I adopted which consisted in deriving from a great mass of air, ionized by the disturbance, a current, storing its energy in a condenser and discharging the same through an indicating device. This plan did away with the limitations and incertitude of the electroscope first employed and was described by me in articles and patents from 1900 to 1905. It was logical to expect, judging from the behavior of known radiations, that the chief source of the new rays would be the sun, but this supposition was contradicted by observations and theoretical considerations which disclosed some surprising facts in this connection.
“Light and heat rays are absorbed in their passage through a medium in a certain proportion to its density. The ether, although the most tenuous of all substances, is no exception to this rule. Its density has been first estimated by Lord Kelvin and conformably to his finding a column of one square centimeter cross section and of a length such that light, traveling at a rate of three hundred thousands kilometers per second, would require one year to traverse it, should weigh 4.8 grams. This is just about the weight of a prism of ordinary glass of the same cross section and two centimeters length which, therefore, may be assumed as the equivalent of the ether column in absorption. A column of the ether one thousand times longer would thus absorb as much light as twenty meters of glass. However, there are suns at distances of many thousands of light years and it is evident that virtually no light from them can reach the earth. But if these suns emit rays immensely more penetrative than those of light they will be slightly dimmed and so the aggregate amount of radiations pouring upon the earth from all sides will be overwhelmingly greater than that supplied to it by our luminary. If light and heat rays would be as penetrative as the cosmic, so fierce would be the perpetual glare and so scorching the heat that life on this and other planets could not exist.
“Rays in every respect similar to the cosmic are produced by my vacuum tubes when operated at pressures of ten millions of volts or more, but even if it were not confirmed by experiment, the theory I advanced in 1897 would afford the simplest and most probable explanation of the phenomena. Is not the universe with its infinite and impenetrable boundary a perfect vacuum tube of dimensions and power inconceivable? Are not its fiery suns electrodes at temperatures far beyond any we can apply in the puny and crude contrivances of our making? Is it not a fact that the suns and stars are under immense electrical pressures transcending any that man can ever produce and is this not equally true of the vacuum in celestial space? Finally, can there be any doubt that cosmic dust and meteoric matter present an infinitude of targets acting as reflectors and transformers of energy? If under ideal working conditions, and with apparatus on a scale beyond the grasp of the human mind, rays of surpassing intensity and penetrative power would not be generated, then, indeed, nature has made an unique exception to its laws.
"It has been suggested that the cosmic rays are electrons or that they are the result of creation of new matter in the interstellar deserts. These views are too fantastic to be even for a moment seriously considered. They are natural outcroppings of this age of deep but unrational thinking, of impossible theories, the latest of which might, perhaps, deal with the curvature of time. What this world of ours would be if time were curved…“
“The Eternal Source of Energy of the Universe, Origin and Intensity of Cosmic Rays.” October 13, 1932.