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2010.12.01 All the way to China

on . Posted in By The Way

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.

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