Is Earth expanding or shrinking?


Is Earth expanding or shrinking
Idyllic Shot Of Earth (Image Credit: Getty images)

Like any good gift provider, Earth is continuously exchanging resources with the rest of the solar system. For example, dust traveling through space bombards our planet by shooting stars frequently, while gases from Earth's atmosphere leak out into space regularly.

Is Earth growing or contracting if it constantly gives out stuff and collects new material?

According to Guillaume Gronoff, a senior research scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia who studies atmospheric escape, our planet — or, more specifically, the atmosphere — is decreasing due to Earth's gaseous gifts to space. However, he said that we are not reducing much.


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Planets develop by accretion when space dust collides and builds up into a more significant mass. According to Granoff, when Earth formed some 4.5 billion years ago, a minor amount of accretion occurred in the form of meteors and meteorites, which added to Earth's mass.

When a planet is formed, however, another process begins atmospheric escape. Granoff said that it functions similarly to evaporation but on a smaller scale. According to Gronnoff, oxygen, hydrogen, and helium atoms in the atmosphere absorb enough energy from the sun to exit the atmosphere.

So, how do these processes influence the total mass of the Earth? Scientists can only make educated guesses.

"Of course, it's still research," Gronoff told Live Science, "since measuring the mass of the Earth in real time is challenging." "We don't have the accuracy required to determine whether the Earth is losing or gaining weight."

According to Granoff, scientists estimate that around 16,500 tons (15,000 metric tons) of meteors — nearly one and a half Eiffel Towers — contact the planet every year, adding to its bulk.


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Meanwhile, scientists have calculated the rate of air escape using satellite data. "It's around 82,700 tons (75,000 metric tons), or about 7.5 Eiffel Towers," Granoff said. That implies the Earth loses around 66,100 tons (60,000 metric tons) of carbon per year. While it may seem to be a large sum, "it's very, very, very modest" in the perspective of the whole planet, he said.

Granoff projected that if Earth lost its atmosphere at a rate of 60,000 tons per year, it would take 5 billion years for the planet to lose its atmosphere if it had no mechanism to refill it, based on estimations from the last century.

The ocean and other activities such as volcanic eruptions contribute to replenishing the Earth's atmosphere. As a result, it will take more than 3,000 times that long — around 15.4 trillion years — for Earth to lose its atmosphere, which is nearly 100 times the universe's lifespan, according to him. But, far before that, the sun's development, which is anticipated to transform into a red giant in roughly 5 billion years, would likely render Earth uninhabitable. "In the long term, the escape of the atmosphere is not an issue," Granoff added.

So, although we may all commend Earth for being a kind benefactor, willingly donating its atmospheric gases to space, we can also rest confident that Earth's diminishing size is not endangering life on the planet.

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