Exploding Planets
Are there any viable mechanisms?

I   
happened to see an excellent piece on the Discovery Channel yesterday about "Super Volcanoes". Yellowstone National Park is such a volcano. It was just recently (within the decade) discovered to be basically the caldera of a mother-huge volcano of the exploding type ... the most violent type ... Krakatoa style. No such volcano has exploded in historical times and the program hinted at the possibility that evidence for a human population collapse about 70-80 thousand years ago might be attributed to the last such explosion of a different super volcano in Indonesia. There is info based on mutation rates in our DNA that indicates that at that time the human population could have been as little as 1000-2000 individuals. Thus, ostensibly the huge explosion wiped out the human race by bringing on a "nuclear type winter" that you hear so much about ... lowering global temperatures by as much as 15o C and making food scarce, etc.

It's quite a sobering idea that Yellowstone gives evidence in strata of having a blow rate of once every 600,000 years and that the last one was ... you guessed it ... 600,000 years ago. Isn't it coincidental that we're all gonna' die !!!!! by some mechanism that's gonn happen sometime ... anytime ... when you least expect it? Well, they said, in this case not to worry because though it might explode tomorrow killing us all ... it could also explode 200,000 years from now. Phew! I was getting ready to pack my bags for the South American rain forest or ... what' left of it.

This all got me to thinking about Tom VanFlandern's site

In case you haven't been there lately, he now has a discussion board. Well, he's attempting to get one going. Not so easy to start one ... take my word for it.

Well, the main thing I have against his exploding planet hypothesis is that I can't get through to any kind of "mechanism". How do you blow up an entire planet without positing unknown physics? He said on the site that it could be a "phase transition". Hmmmm ... well, that's what that super volcano goes out as. Gas, dissolved in the magma under pressure is suddenly released catastrophically sending ... in the case of the earlier human decimating volcano ... about 3000 cubic kilometers (that's not a misprint - 3000 Kilo-meters, i.e. 6/10 of a mile on a side 3000 of 'em) of rock, dust, dirt, magma, steam, noxious gases and other awful things (and hopefully Windows ME) up into the atmosphere at the velocity of a Concorde passenger airplane. Talk about your champaign cork & froth!

Well, here says I is the second possible mechanism for planetary explosion.

The first would be a straightforward nuclear fission explosion ... can't be fusion cause that's impossible by presently well understood mechanics. But where would you get such a "pile"? You go to critical mass in the planet's core all at once? Maybe ... I doubt it ... but that scenario has effects that would leave their mark and could be experimentally ruled out upon exploration of the asteroid belt.

Then there's phase transition ...

Like this ... shake the Coke up real rough ... then pop the key. Whoosh, it's all over your shirt, face & hair. This is exactly the type of transition that the volcano uses. Can we extrapolate all the way up to a magma chamber equal to an entire planet? Where's the limit?

What kind of energy are we talking about?

A planet has only a few energy sources to employ to the end of blowing itself up. These are:

  • Gravitational energy from "falling" down a potential
  • Radiation from internal fission events
  • Collision events which bring in more energy than you'd get from just falling
  • Flexing from being bound closely to another body which distorts the shape with the rotation and orbital periods (due to tidal effects) ... as in the "Pizza Planet" - IO
  • Radiation falling on its surface (too small for what we have in mind)
  • That's all there is ... I think
  • To blow up a planet, the initial gravitational energy is no good since the best we could get is to throw out matter back where it came from ... IF ... none of that energy was radiated away as heat. That's what keeps matter down in the potential well in the first place. It can't get out because some energy escaped irretrievably out into inter-galactic space. To take the planet apart again we need more energy ... lots of it.

    And ... we need a "spring" to compress and hold ... until enough of that extra energy has accumulated to blow a planet.

    Well, dissolving a gas under pressure is going to be the spring and the energy to compress it must be provided by the other sources ... with the exception of collision events because these would crack the egg open prematurely releasing the "awful" before we're ready for the really big shew. And ... the flexing source would probably do the same ... hmmmm ... what does that leave ... YES! it must be internal fission events! There's our compressor.

    So, fission heats up the magma (extra hot) ... this helps to dissolve the gas (sulphur compounds in the super-volcano and on IO too) ... we wait around millions of years while the crust keeps the lid on ... then ... then ... some bigass collision takes place busting open our planet like a rotten fruit and its guts explode out from a more extensive surface area ... all at once ... just like the Coke can.

    Voila ... phase transition ... super sized.

    My guess is that the Earth would be just too big for this to happen because escape velocity is too high ... much higher than Concorde velocity ... but moon size ... hmmmmm ... maybe. Whud'ya think?

    It happened to Krypton ... and ... it could happen ... again.

    
    

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