Monday, April 9, 2007

Halley's Planet

Not so many years ago there was no order of magnitude estimate of the age of the planet Earth. Edmund Halley (yes, that's the "comet guy") wrote an article in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 29, 296 (1714), where he observed that lakes that emit no rivers (such as Dead Sea, or Caspian Sea) are very salty, and thus it is reasonable to assume that rivers bring salt into the lakes. He further claimed that "'tis not improbable that the ocean it self is become salt from the same cause." Consequently, by measuring the salinity of the oceans and by determining the amount of salt brought by rivers every year, one could estimate the age of the Earth. Halley lacked the data to actually perform an estimate of the age of the Earth using his method. Halley's assumptions are wrong, but nevertheless it was a nice try for his time. What would be the age of Earth according to Halley's method?

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