GEO 103 - THE THIRD PLANET
E. R. SWANSON – SPRING 2009
THE THIRD PLANET – PART I
WHAT IS SCIENCE AND WHAT IS TECHNOLOGY?
The Third Planet or Geology 1013 is a basic course in the Earth sciences.
might seem somewhat strange, then, to spend the first several weeks studying astronomy.
The course is about the Earth, but Earth also happens to be the third planet from the Sun,
and it is not possible to fully understand Earth’s origin if we know nothing of the origin
and evolution of the solar system and of the universe to which Earth belongs.
second section of the course does turn to the down-to-earth subject of Geology and what
it tells us about our little bit of the physical Universe.
I say our little bit of the universe
knowing that it is home to millions of other species, but who cares.
We run the place
We always have, and we always will.
Not particularly humble, is it?
this is a common attitude and it is something that we will consider as we study geologic
time, the history of the Earth and (horrors) mass extinctions.
Section three of the course
covers Earth’s natural resources, including those important things that support our
Industrial Age lifestyle, things we could not possible do without, things like cell phones
and underarm deodorant, items without which modern society and our social life would
The last section of the course is all about natural disasters, something that
society would very much like to do without, but which will unfortunately happen no
matter what we think or do.
Section 1 – Astronomy (our place in space)
Section 2 – Geology (our place in time)
Section 3 – Natural Resources (our stuff)
Section 4 – Disasters (what will happen to our stuff)
Today, most of us humans no longer live out in the open, taking our chances with
the rest of nature.
Or do we?
Most of us live in big cities, isolated and insulated from
Or are we?
City lights blind us to the stars and to the universe around us,
making it easy to assume that nature has no importance.
Nature is largely irrelevant.
Our view of the rest of the earth and of the universe comes processed and package to us
through television or through the computer.
Life’s necessities and luxuries are also
packaged and found at local stores.
We get milk from HEB, not from a cow.
from the corner station, not from some marine organic material that with the luck of a
lottery winner managed to survive for 100 million years only to end as fuel for our rush-
That car, the iron part of it anyway, was created by fusion in some now
disintegrated star, it fell to Earth in one of many asteroids 4.55 billion years ago or so,
and it escaped the fate of most iron by not sinking to Earth’s core.
dissolved in and then was precipitated from seawater when free oxygen arrived in the
ocean and atmosphere two billion years ago.
It mostly just sat there in a red sedimentary
layer until someone dug it up and smelted away the oxygen because Henry Ford decided