For Science!
5 Obsolete Theories That Scientists Once Widely Accepted

CJ Miozzi | 2 Jul 2014 19:00
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4. Expanding Earth Theory

When it was discovered that South America fit so snugly into the nook of Africa, scientists puzzled over hypotheses that could explain the apparent continental drift. As of the 1970s, the prevailing theory is plate tectonics, but one popular theory before that was that the Earth was expanding, increasing in volume like a balloon being inflated.

While the notion may sound ridiculous to us today, it was first put forth by none other than Charles Darwin after observing raised beaches in Patagonia. It seemed to him that a huge area of South America had been raised upward, and he hypothesized that this was caused by the gradual expansion of the Earth. Since then, measurements and models have largely debunked any idea that our planet is growing in size, and the theory of plate tectonics offers better solutions to the puzzles that the expanding Earth theory was attempting to resolve.

A big problem that the expanding Earth theory faced was a plausible mechanism for the expansion - why would the Earth be growing? A modern supporter of an expanding Earth theory, interdisciplinary scientist J. Marvin Herndon believes that the Earth formed from a Jupiter-like planet that lost its gaseous atmosphere in a sudden and catastrophic event. The gas would have previously been exerting pressure on the planet, squeezing it, and with the gas removed, the Earth would then expand like a giant stress ball released from a tight grip.

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