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 pictures. Badass. 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.