How Did I Not Know This?

While reading a list of strange scientific phenomena, I saw a throwaway comment about a natural nuclear reactor underneath the surface of the Earth at “what is now Oklo in Gabon.”  It had to be a joke.  Surely I had stumbled across some obscure viral marketing for the next horrible scifi movie, and when I researched Oklo, I’d find some website talking about it that looked old but had no archival record prior to 2007, with speculation from prominent UFOlogists suggesting it was from a crashed spaceship.

Except my search quickly brought me to a sub-site of the US Department of Energy talking about how it happened, how they know it happened, and what it means for disposal of radioactive materials.  Huh.  Now, I don’t expect to have learned everything there is just yet, but damn it if this isn’t the most awesome thing nobody seems to talk about. Our planet spontaneously made its own nuclear reactor millions of years before any mind ever considered the possibility.

It ranks up there with the moment I learned that in 1975, the USSR landed probes on the surface of Venus, withstanding the crushing pressures and lead-melting temperatures long enough to take pictures and gather some environmental data and transmit it back to Earth.  6 years later, they repeated their success and returned color picturesBadass.  If you check out their timeline, you’ll see that they failed for 14 years until they got it right, which is possibly very inspirational, but I can’t escape the mental imagery of a special Siberian gulag just for disgraced Venus mission leaders.

2 thoughts on “How Did I Not Know This?”

  1. That’s cool as hell! You know, the current hypothesis is that lightning or unfiltered solar radiation provided the energy to turn a protein soup into the first basic forms of life. But what if it was heat/radiation from an underground natural reactor?

    Cool. As. Hell.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’m glad you found it as cool as amazing as I did 🙂 Certainly, any theory that involves ancient sources of ionizing radiation would have to take Oklo into account. They theorize that water flowed into the area and acted to regulate the reaction, and we know that water and life go hand-in-hand, so perhaps there’s something to your idea.

    Whether or not natural reactors had a role in life’s origin, ionizing radiation does cause mutations, so any established life in the water that flowed to/from the area would be affected. (As a side note, I wonder how many new strains of bacteria are born in the fires of a bowel CT scan…)

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