Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The state of GRACE

One of NASA's ongoing experiments is the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE for short), which was launched, both literally and figuratively, in March 2002.  GRACE uses data from a pair of satellites to do detailed measurements of the Earth's gravitational field, information that can be used in such disparate fields as plate and mantle tectonics and the study of groundwater flow rates, deep ocean currents, and ice cap melting.

The data is frequently represented visually, using bulges, dips, and colors on the Earth's surface to represent various variables such as measured gravitational strength, temperature, and water salinity.  This generates images like the following:

And that's where the trouble started, because someone posted this image on the unfailingly bizarre site Godlike Productions with the caption, "This is the current shape of our planet?!!! WTF!!!  As modeled by the GRACE Gravity Data.  Planet being torn apart!"

Now, I don't know whether the original poster was a troll, or really believed that what (s)he was posting was true, but you'd think that once it was posted, there would be a Greek chorus' worth of shouts of "Are you a complete moron?  Or what?"  After all, if there really was something stretching the world into the shape depicted on the map, the folks in Australia would have something to say about it.

But no.  The vast majority of the responders thought that this, in fact, showed what the Earth really looks like, and that NASA was covering the whole thing up for their usual evil motives.

Oh, there were voices of reason, but they were the ones being shouted down.  Here are some comments that appeared, in order, after the original post.
Could it be since the moon is pulling away from Earth that it is pulling a chunk off Earth with it?
If that is really the current shape of our planet, then we are in deep shit. This is worse than anyone has thought! The moon is gonna pull a chunk off the planet. That or planet X's effect on our planet? No wonder there are so many quakes? The planet is being torn!!!

This is for real folks! This is imaged by GRACE Twin Satellites. This is so off from past projections. The planet is literally being torn apart.

This explains everything from sink holes, mass animal dies offs, weird weather, increase in quakes, oil leaks, continent movements, poles shifting etc...

Something is pulling a chunk off the planet, or the destabilization of the Arctic and Antarctica is distorting the planet.
Then, one person posted the following:
It is a GRAVITY map.  For fuck's sake.
But you don't stop a whole herd of Chickens Little that easily, because the outcry continued as if the Voice of Reason hadn't said a word:
Notice the three areas of extreme magnetic pressure and the weak area in the Indian Ocean. That is going to continue to sink and eventually break off completely, a chunk off the planet. Maybe it will become our new moon with an atmosphere to make it habitable.

None of the other planets look like that. The moon sure doesn't.

Seems to me like we are literally splitting ourselves apart.

the bible does say that the earth shall be destroyed including the heavens and a new heaven and earth shall be born or created. Maybe there is an earth being born within, black sun? Vril? Or the beast raising from the deep? Very interesting.
One person even responded directly to the Voice of Reason, implying that (s)he was the one who didn't understand:
No Duh! A gravity map also showing the current shape of our potato planet.
And on it goes:
Even the stretching effect can clearly be seen. It's starting to look like a skull?

Doesn't look normal to me.
After watching that again, I think the planet is rarely anything close to spherical. How come other planets don't look like that?
Then, we had one other person chime in who evidently has some understanding of what's going on here:
Wow.... I thought for a minute second that ultimate doom has befallen us.... Finally..... BUT, it's a gravity map. It's NOT a geophysical depiction... It's based on gravitational data. Kind of like the "hole in the ozone layer" enhancement maps. This is not the shape of the planet folks, it's the shape of the planet's gravitational plus and minuses, which change daily due to moon placement and other factors... Kind of like an mri if you will... If you remove certain colors from an mri does that mean you have removed parts of the person's brain?

Unfortunately, no real doom here. As this map will look very different on the next full moon.
But of course, the doomsayers paid no attention whatsoever.  They never do, somehow.

What gets me about all of this is how a quick internet search for "GRACE gravity survey" would have turned up websites -- several of them, in fact -- that explain what the image means.  So I've often railed against people who want to be able to talk about things like quantum mechanics without doing the hard work of learning what quantum mechanics really is; here we have people who are so catastrophically lazy that they can't even be bothered to do a search on Google before deciding whether or not Australia is being forcibly ripped off the surface of the Earth.

I don't know, folks.  I should have some sort of trenchant comment to make about all of this, but at the moment I can't think of anything to do but weep quietly into my coffee, and quote Professor Farnsworth:

Of course, if the people who think that the GRACE map actually represents the real, physical shape of the Earth are correct, I may get my wish sooner than I realize.

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