Effervescent Universe

April 5, 2011

Areiosan geology varies markedly over time; early crust of the planet is dominated by hydroxide minerals that formed when rocks come in contact with superheated water. In this process called serpentination, water comes in contact with certain rocks; it forms these hydroxide minerals and hydrogen gas, which can later form methane in a reaction with organic molecules. Over time, this hydroxide mineralogy would be replaced by sulfide minerals. Sulfur is a reactive element that tends to replace carbon in some molecules, just as any oxygen at the time would obliterate any methane in the atmosphere. Although methane is quickly broken down into carbon dioxide, the early planet was producing more methane abiotically than could be destroyed naturally. This helped to keep the early planet from freezing over under a lukewarm Hemera. When Areios’ crust was forming at the beginning of time, the planet glowed like an incandescent light bulb for millions of years until it cooled down enough for the crust to solidify and water to form on the surface. As water vapor condensed and rained down on the planet, the temperatures began to cool.

At the time, the atmosphere was heavily laced with sulfur compounds, and this mingled with the water vapor in the atmosphere to create acid rain. Because sulfuric acid has a higher boiling point than water, sulfuric acid was the first to rain down on the planet, eating away at the surface and acidifying the oceans. Once the atmosphere was purged of sulfur compounds, the atmosphere became less choked with smog. On Earth, sulfur compounds spewed from volcanoes block the Sun’s rays, causing an overall cooling effect. Once the sulfur was done raining down from the sky, solar radiation poked through the atmosphere and heated the planet up a little bit, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep water vapor in the atmosphere, generating a greenhouse effect. Next in the progression, water condensed and rained down on the planet, covering its surface with pools of toxic seas. With this atmosphere mostly made of nitrogen, hydrogen, helium, noble gases the water vapor and carbon dioxide churned out by volcanic activity wasn’t enough to keep the planet warm. The oceans froze from the poles outward as the planet lurched out its rotation, thanks to the gravity of Alkyneous as was plowed back into deep space by the gravity of Hemera. With this Milankovitch cycle allied with the drastic cut back in greenhouse gases, the planet was fast becoming an iceball. Carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold waters, so the falling temperatures sped up the process of scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the air. Soon it got so cold worldwide that carbon dioxide even began to condense into dry ice, marbling the ice water now dominating the surface. With the atmosphere all but scrubbed of water, sulfur, carbon, Hemera shone brightly on the planet for the first time since its creation. But with ice reflecting most of the light back out into space, Areios stayed cold for quite some time.

But eventually, the planet swung back into an orbit close enough to Hemera that allowed carbon dioxide frozen on the surface to thaw out. With all of the ice on Areios pressing down on the tectonic plates, continental drift slowed to a halt. And because the shifting of tectonic plates provides substrate for carbon dioxide to react with rocks to form carbonate minerals, carbon dioxide and especially methane began to build in the atmosphere. The thick layer of ice on Areios’ surface conceals an active interior; the mantle is still radiating heat underneath miles of ice, spewing out dark colored rocks and oxygen-rich minerals kept safe from the rest of the environment by a thick coating of ice. With Hemera shining brighter on the planet than ever before, with carbon dioxide levels ratcheting up with no tectonic cycle to stop its progress, and with oxygen accumulating as oxidized minerals in the mantle and kept under miles of ice, Areios was primed for a great thaw.

First the tropics thawed, exposing dark colored continental rocks and raising sea levels. Then as more ice melted into lakes and seas, the liquid water absorbed heat as it exposed more surface area underneath receding ice. The plate tectonic cycle started back up, shuffling the continents into a supercontinent, creating vast expanses of shallow seas and driving ocean currents to spread the heat around to the poles as retreating back to all but the tiniest corners of the poles. With most of the oxygen safely trapped in the crust, methane and carbon dioxide reach record high concentrations and Areios returns from the deep freeze with a planet straddling ocean and an atmosphere primed for the creation of life. Oceans became saturated with carbon dioxide and other organic molecules that washed into the sea from the continents once new area of continental shelf become exposed to wind and water currents. The oceans became a veritable laboratory of organic chemical reactions and now that temperatures were on the rise, a lot of interesting chemistry was going to occur.

Snowball Earth

This is a depction of Areios covered from pole-to-pole with glaciers in an analgous Snowball period

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One Response to “Effervescent Universe”

  1. Snowball Earth may not have been as severe as we like to imagine. http://jkendrickensis.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/not-so-snowball-earth/

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