ZINIO logo
New Scientist The Collection

New Scientist The Collection Our Planet

New Scientist covers discoveries and ideas in science and technology that will change your life and the way you understand the world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields to provide in-depth but accessible coverage of the developments that matter. New Scientist: The Collection is a themed compilation of recent articles and special reports from our back catalogue, providing a book-length examination of some of the deepest questions known to humanity.

Read More
United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
Back issues only

in this issue

2 min.
the wonders of the place we call home

WHAT does home mean to you? Probably somewhere familiar, comfortable and safe. Certainly, Earth provides all these things, and more besides. Yet the true nature of our home planet is far more awe-inspiring and mysterious, and sometimes hazardous in the extreme. Formed about 4.6 billion years ago from the debris of the big bang and long-dead stars, Earth started as just another ball of molten rock orbiting an unremarkable star. Yet somehow it became one of the most amazing planets in the universe: the only one we know of that harbours life. For this we must thank Earth’s unique character. Neither too hot nor too cold, it is rich in water and other life-friendly chemicals that are constantly recycled by a complex atmosphere and remarkably dynamic surface. It even has a giant…

20 min.
unknown earth our planet’s seven biggest mysteries

1 How come Earth got all the good stuff? Look around our solar system and you could be forgiven for thinking its eight planets drifted in from completely different parts of the cosmos. Yet they all formed from the same cloud of gas and dust that surrounded the sun more than 4.5 billion years ago. As gravity pulled this cloud together with the sun at its centre, dust grains collided and stuck to each other, growing in size and generating ever larger gravitational fields. These clumps collided and merged, building the planets we know today. That’s the big picture, but the details of what happened in the early stages of Earth’s life remain a mystery. Solving it is fundamental to understanding why Earth is so suitable for life. We know that its…

10 min.
rise of the upper crust

OLIVER JAGOUTZ doesn’t have much room for rocks in his narrow tenth-floor office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the geologist keeps a couple of samples on hand to show visitors how Earth produces something unique in the solar system: continents. The rocks come from a landscape half a world away, in the remote, hostile mountains of northern Pakistan. But they are a rare record of goings-on deep below Earth’s surface. Along with three to four tonnes of other rocks from the region that Jagoutz and his colleagues have gathered over the years, they could hold the key to the enduring mystery of our planet’s dry land – and much else besides. Earth’s surface is like no other in our solar system. Sitting atop the partially molten mass of the planet’s…

1 min.
mystery of the missing lead

The geological formations of Kohistan have already revealed chunks of heavy rock dropping off Earth’s crust and into the mantle (see main story). But the region’s unique geography could also answer a perennially thorny question: why Earth’s composition doesn’t seem to match that of any meteorites. Meteorites are made of the raw material left over from the solar system’s construction phase that should also have gone into making our planet. Taking an average of all known terrestrial rocks gives an unusual ratio of two kinds of lead isotope formed by the decay of radioactive uranium, compared with “primitive” lead that has been around since Earth formed. For decades, geologists have searched for a missing reservoir of rocks with high levels of primitive lead. “It has to be stored somewhere. It hasn’t…

10 min.
driller thriller

AN UNLIKELY explorer is floating off the east coast of Japan. At first glance, the colossal ship resembles a cross between a cruise liner and the Eiffel Tower. Perched on deck are a helipad, several large cranes and a huge scaffold tower around 30 storeys high (see picture, overleaf). In the control room, a supervisor monitors the screens before setting the scaffold in motion. “Confirm the hole position,” he says. Inside the tower, machinery whirs as the world’s longest drill is lowered towards the ocean floor. Its ultimate destination, when it gets there, will be uncharted territory. So goes a typical day on board Chikyu, a Japanese drilling vessel designed for deep-sea geology. If it isn’t drilling into faultlines it is probing hydrothermal vents or underwater methane deposits. But ultimately the ship…

10 min.
messengers from the underworld

WILLIAM MCDONOUGH doesn’t mince his words about our attempts to get to grips with the lump of rock we call home. “Think of it as many blind people grabbing an elephant,” he says. While we learn ever more of other worlds in our solar system and beyond, our picture of the Earth beneath our feet remains surprisingly sketchy. What exactly is it made of? How did it form? We are left groping for answers. McDonough, a geochemist at the University of Maryland, aims to change that. His goal is to shed light on the planet’s most mysterious region – the vast netherworld of mantle that lies between the hot central core and thin outer crust. Light, though, is not McDonough’s thing: he and his colleagues are planning to get their answers…