2010.12.01 All the way to China

Written by David Green.


I got a call from friends on the road asking for the coordinates of a hotel they planned to visit. It’s fairly new so it didn’t show on the GPS unit on their dashboard.

I found the place on Google Maps. It’s along the Mississippi River, on the west side of Illinois.

Google Maps gave me the coordinates, but in decimal form. I found a website to convert it to degrees, minutes and seconds, copied the numbers and fed that into the map page.

Hmmm, western Mongolia. A long way from Rock Island, Ill. I figured out what was wrong. I needed the longitude listed as west instead of east.

The next day I thought about that and suddenly wondered if that place in Mongolia was on the opposite side of the Earth from Rock Island. And so of course I began wondering where you would end up if you started digging here.

I remember when I removed a pesky mulberry tree from the back yard 20-some years ago. When the neighborhood kids gathered ’round, I told them I was digging a hole to China.

I wasn’t any more specific than that. I didn’t say that I was digging to Luntai in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

If only I’d known. I might have had more incentive to keep digging. I looked at the area on Google maps and it’s really fascinating. I’ve never seen geography like this before.

There’s an immense desert to the south and a large mountainous area to the north, with dozens of outwash plains leading into the lower area of Luntai. To the west is Kyrgyzstan and to the right is Mongolia.

Keep digging.

BECAUSE there’s a website for most everything possible, of course there’s one called “Dig a Hole Through the Earth.”

It’s there that you learn that it’s impossible to dig through the Earth, but I’m sure you never really thought otherwise. You know, all those miles of solid rock will be followed by molten rock followed by miles more of solid rock. Temperatures more than 10,000 degrees. Pressures more than 300 million greater than on the surface.

If you were able to dig a hole and you jumped in—or maybe just dropped a rock down there to test it out—would you pass right through? Friction would slow you down and gravity would reverse as you cross to the far side. But if you could? Well, if you just ignored the factors listed above, it would take about 42 minutes to fall through the tunnel.

The writer Ian Frazier discovered there are two towns in Illinois that are named after their other-side-of-the-Earth counterparts. Somebody had some time to kill when they came up with the names of Peking, Ill., and Canton, Ill. Now it’s time for an update. The city councils should think about becoming Beijing and Guangzhou, and we could become Sister Cities with Luntai. We’d get some sort of exchange program going.

Maybe there’s an astute reader who has already established the fallacy of this dig. Heading straight down from Morenci isn’t really going to get you to China. That would work if you dig down to the center, then bounce back up at a 90 degree angle.

Digging straight down ends about 1,289 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. Actually, there are very few areas on the continental U.S. where a person could drill down and reach land on the other side.

If you drilled a few miles west of Havre, Mont., you’d hit the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. Head down near Two Buttes, Col., and you’ll make contact with tiny Ile Amsterdam. There just isn’t much out there opposite of us in the Indian Ocean. Imagine that: the entire U.S. could be plopped down and smash a total of only three small islands.

There’s a guy named Ze Frank who created a tool (http://www.zefrank.com/sandwich/tool.html) to quickly find out what’s below. Move around the left map and the right side (the opposite side) moves correspondingly. It’s called antipodal Earth geography.

Ze’s tool tells me that most of Asia, Europe and Africa are also opposite water, which makes his Earth Sandwich project rather difficult. You place a piece of bread on one side of the world and another on the other.

But that deep hole to salt water definitely has it benefits. I bet it would keep the mulberry from coming back.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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