Science

# Why Is Earth Getting 50,000 Tonnes Lighter Each Year?

This post by Jesus Diaz originally appeared on Gizmodo

Earth is getting 50,000 tonnes lighter every year, even while 40,000 tonnes of space dust fall on our planet’s surface during the same period. So, why are we losing so much weight? You will be surprised.

At least, I never considered this and I was surprised to hear the reasoning in More or Less, a BBC Radio 4 program about statistics and numbers. According to Dr Chris Smith and Cambridge University physicist Dave Ansel’s calculations, despite those 40,000 tonnes of space dust that become part of our planet every year, Earth loses 50,000 tonnes of mass. Is it because we keep launching rockets? No. These are their back-of-the-napkin calculations:

• Earth gains about 40,000 tonnes of dust every year, the remnants of the formation of the solar system, which are attracted by our gravity and become part of the matter in our planet. Our planet is actually made from all that starstuff.
• NASA says that Earth gains about 160 tonnes of matter a year because the global temperature is going up: “If we are adding energy to the system, the mass must go up.” Oh, those crazy thermodynamics.

No effect

• Of course, having more people or building stuff doesn’t add any mass to the planet. Humans and things are made with the matter that is already in the planet. It’s just being transformed.
• Most of the rockets and satellites that we launch to Earth orbit eventually fall down back to Earth, so no real effect here.

Losing weight

(Image: Jason Reed/Photodisc/Alamy via National Geographic)

• Earth’s core loses energy over time. It’s like a giant nuclear reactor that burns fuel. Less energy means less mass. 16 tonnes of that are gone every year. Not much.
• And here’s the big mass loss: about 95,000 tonnes of hydrogen and 1,600 tones of helium escape Earth every year. They are too light for gravity to keep them around, so they get lost. Gone into space.

The result: the rough estimate is -50,000 tonnes every year. Which is about 0.000000000000001 percent less mass every year.

Should we be worried about Earth disappearing into thin air? No, you shouldn’t. And you shouldn’t worry about losing hydrogen. There’s plenty and it will take trillions of years to deplete it.

Helium, on the other hand, is a different matter. It represents 0.00052 percent of the volume in our atmosphere, but it’s mainly harvested from natural gas using a process called fractional distillation. Helium is becoming scarce in our planet. In fact, Cornell University physicist and Nobel Prize-winner Robert Richardson once said that each floating party balloon should have a \$100 price tag, who campaigned against the U.S. Government decision to sell the country’s helium stockpile by 2015 to keep prices down.

He’s probably right, considering that it is crucial for devices like MRI scanners, where it is used for cooling superconducting magnets and growing silicon and germanium crystals as well as the production of titanium and zirconium. [Download the program here (5MB)]

• ##### Palmetto rifles
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:08pm

With the amount that Rosie O gains each year; it should be a wash!!!

• ##### db321
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:52pm

You couldn’t sell Global Warming – and now your telling us the Earth is Losing weight. I going to go out on a limb and predict next’s steps.

Blame Bush and then dismantle the entire US Missile Defense System – while allowing everyone else to keep – I see where this might be going.

• ##### AngryK9
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 1:44pm

DB321….it is you’re telling us. Not your telling us.

• ##### TomFerrari
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 3:42pm

This is odd…

I had never heard this until this week. Then, I read it somewhere a day or two ago.
Now it pops up on TheBlaze.

Big coincidence!?!? Or are we reading the same sources?
Veddy Eenteresting.

• ##### Brooke Lorren
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 5:21pm

I read about the helium shortage a year or so ago, so that information is not news.

I didn’t know that that the earth was losing weight, but when I read the article, my guess was that it was the gases that were escaping. I listened to a series of lectures on astronomy last year, and one of the lectures was on the atmosphere, so that’s where that guess came from.

• ##### turkey13
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 5:27pm

I thought they were going to say because obama gets on tv for 2 or 3 hrs. each week and a lot of hot air escapes from him as he talks!

• ##### Komponist-ZAH
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 7:44pm

“Should we be worried about Earth disappearing into thin air?”

There is no air in space, thin or otherwise, so, no.

• ##### VicksVaporub
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:32pm

More crap science they can’t prove and will change their mind about in a couple years, but always presented as absolute fact.

• ##### paperpushermj
Posted on February 8, 2012 at 11:38pm

So how much does the planet gain each year from all the junk coming in from space each and every year from the very beginning of time

• ##### blaaaaackwoman
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:05pm

By my calculations, Chris Christy consumes 50,000 tons of food per year and to hide his massive poop piles he launches it into space with a massive slingshot.

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:29pm

Get a new calculator!

• ##### IlovemyAkita
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:31pm

stupid blaaaaaackwoman

• ##### banjarmon
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 2:20pm

watch this woman!!

http://therealrevo.com/blog/?p=57506

• ##### kurtnut
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 3:11pm

@blaaaaaackwoman

You’re the perfect example of whats wrong with government education and government schools. Stop proving your stupidity and go wait by the mailbox for your welfare check!

• ##### AngryK9
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 5:30pm

Flotus consumes twice that but never poops. Her behind just keeps getting bigger.

• ##### ShamanWorld
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:53am

Its from taking the billions upon billions of barrels of fossil fuel from inside the Earth and burning it faster than it is being replaced(Abiotic oil). Every oil producing area is sinking in elevation also.

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:59am

Saudi Arabia should be under water in a few more years.

Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:04pm

You really need to lay off the crack Shaman…No really, you should…As much as you smoke. the world may tip over…

• ##### Hobbs57
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:57pm

What do you think the fossil fuels turn into when they are burned ? What do you think they are before they are burned ? Seriously, you need to take a biology course, or at least a 2 hour google search about CARBON.

• ##### FeliciaJewel
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 1:48pm

Saudi Arabia under water… solution is “Drill Now”!!!!!! Muhahahahaha

• ##### tzion
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 3:56pm

Ever hear about how mass is neither created or destroyed? The weight of oil and the weight of its by-products are identical.

• ##### Athinkerinaseaoflibs
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:42am

Couple of things to point out. Normally in the commodity business they speak of long and short tons. A long ton is 2,200 pound to be in alignment with the metric ton. The short ton is 2,000 pounds and that is what the US is normally considered.
When any material is burned such as coal, oil, wood or whatever, the smoke goes into the atmosphere. The atmosphere is still part of the mass of the earth. Vast majority of this is in the form of water and some of it is in the form of the “dreaded” CO2. Not to fret! Processes such as growing plants, the oceans absorbing this stuff is being consumed. All of this is really of tiny. Considering the mass of Earth is about 12 followed by 24 zeros pounds.

The last thing, both Hydrogen and Helium are both lighter than the average material are in the air. When Hydrogen tries to escape, it typically does not make it out of the atmosphere. It smashes into some oxygen atoms and turns into water that is heavy that stays around. Helium is a “Noble” gas meaning it does not combine with anything (Nobles don’t mix with the commoners). Released helium in to the atmosphere it float to the top until the force of the earth’s gravitation pull no longer can hold it in. Then is is gone forever. Don’t worry, decay on the earth is making lots as we speak.

• ##### Chuck Stein
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:24pm

@ Athinkerinaseaoflibs
Speaking of commodities: what is it with a “U.S. Government decision to sell the country’s helium stockpile by 2015 to keep prices down.” anyway? What interest does (or should) the government have in a low helium price?
As for helium in general: None of the helium we have on Earth existed whn Earth was formed — it had all escaped into space. Where did “our” helium come from? Radioactive decay of Thorium and Uranium (and thier “daughter” isotopes). An alpha particle is 2 neutrons and 2 protons — which is the same as a helium neucleus. As alpha decay progresses in the Earth’s core, helium is produced — then it is trapped in the same geological formations that trap natural gas.

• ##### Jaycen
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:46pm

In the long run, we could also look at nuclear fusions, of which Helium is a by-product – we could also seek out ways to collect the helium blowing and flowing over and around us from the sun. Certainly, billions of tons of the stuff flies past the earth at all hours of the day.

• ##### machineGear
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 1:44pm

Long dirt.

• ##### lukerw
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:40am

The Surface is Warming… but the Core is Cooling? This does not Compute!

• ##### discus02
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:33am

Oh no global shrinking! My G-d what to do, I know pass some laws contact the EPA!

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:41am

And Al Gore!

• ##### Athinkerinaseaoflibs
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:40pm

@ BOMUSTGO.
Knowing that the professor from Gillian’s Island is used by algore as his main source of knowledge. (Remember– the guy who could make a Gieger counter out of bamboo and coconut but could not make boat that would float. He also did not know what to do with Ginger and Maryann who were there all the time) This all will make algore run around much like Gilligan with the skipper chasing him. His montra is that we need to tax someone to keep the earth from shrinking! All the time he will get a cut that will allow him to increase his own mass to levels never seen by man.

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 12:55pm

Good one ATHINKER…Gilligans Island was about socialism..Everybody had to pull together to stay alive except for that evil rich capitalist and his wife known as the Howell’s.

• ##### FreedomInData
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:29am

NASA says that Earth gains about 160 tonnes of matter a year because the global temperature is going up: “

Anyone that says this ;Has NO CREDIBILITY and what ever comes before or after that “Fact” will have to be made by a credible source.

• ##### lukerw
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:55am

NASA has become a Tool… of UnSceintific Mission!

• ##### GroundZero is Nuclear Demolition x3
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:22am

@athinker Great points

Also consider it is ASSUMED by the science industry the Earth is solid, many points have been made to contradict a solid model. Such as “shadow zones” affecting p-waves in propagation. Others have even presented evidence the earth is expanding, which the science community “tweaked the formula” to account for that.
The DEEPEST drilled hole EVER, started cir 70′, is not even 8 miles deep. They have drilled that depth FASTER since then, but not DEEPER.

• ##### Calm Voice of Reason
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:39am

@Groundzero: As far as I am aware, there are NO claims ANYWHERE that the Earth is solid. It is very well known that the Earth has a molten core. It is because of the fact that we have a liquid, iron core that the planet is capable of generating the electro-magnetic field which protects us from the Sun’s solar radiation.

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:44am

There goes the “Hollow earth” theory!

• ##### tzion
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 2:11pm

Whether something is solid or liquid has absolutely ZERO effect on mass. 1 kg of water is still 1 kg if that water is ice.

• ##### RodT82721
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:10am

Another big problem from the minds of the elite.
Something to worry about in Congress and of course that means we will have to study it! A few billion tax payers dollars to all the PhDs that live in academia and survive doing unnecessary public funded studies, for problems that don’t really exist except in their computer software.

AGW has finally played out, the money has dried up, even Barry’s EPA is giving up excuses and turned to just destroying our production capabilities. So it’s time for another ‘problem’ for the masses to worry over.
I want to see that scale that measures those tons of gas we lose. Everything we do now is make believe, except for the dunder head in the WH.

• ##### AmericanStrega
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:09am

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD I TELLS YA! We’re DOOOOOOOOMED! DOOOOOOOOMED! ;)

• ##### Kankokage
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:08am

When one looks at the entire planet as a system, the math does work out to a net loss. However, there are a few assumptions made in the analysis that are not quite correct:

1) The earth hasn’t been warming for over a decade, and the surface temperatures are actually starting to drop. This would result in an immediate (and millennial) drop in latent energy and hence lowered mass via special relativity (E=mc^2).

2) Helium is a natural byproduct of nearly every higher-order elemental degradation (i.e. fission), as well as fusion which may be happening within the depths of the Earth’s core (4 deuterium or tritium -> 2 He). Helium is being added to the system at an incredible rate; there is likely no need to panic over the end of helium. Of course, the degradation of elements (as well as any fusion reactions) does lead to a net loss – which they have right.

3) It’s Bush’s fault.

• ##### SpankDaMonkey
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:08am

.
Why Is Earth Getting 50,000 Tonnes Lighter Each Year?

It’s either Abortion or Honor Killing’s…………….

• ##### kspatriot
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:20am

There have been 49,551,703 babies aborted since Roe v. Wade. Many of those would now be of age to be paying into our social security system. Hmmm……….not that I’m for these social programs, but aside from the government stealing the “trust fund”, the main problem is too few people paying in for those retired.

• ##### omgfolks
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:02am

Well damn Skippy! Lets take another look at this and see if we can find a less scientific reason why the earth loses wieght, how about?????????????? Oh yeah all the coal and and oil we take out of the ground and burn everyday to live off of??????? Could that be it???? How much finding did it take for this answer? \$3.00, for electric and internet for 45 seconds, How much was spent by the scientist MILLIONS I AM BETTING…

• ##### Kankokage
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:11am

The Earth is not just the solid crust and liquid/solid cores, but also the atmosphere. Remember: mass cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. Removing coal and oil from the crust of the Earth does not remove it from the Earth itself, and burning it does not destroy the mass – the mass is conserved in the exhaust and retained in the atmosphere until it finds its way back into the crust.

• ##### JBinIN
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:16am

Lavoisier discovered (in the 18th century, mind you), that mass is neither created nor destroyed in a chemical reaction. It changes form. This is known as the law of conservation of mass.

• ##### RavenGlenn
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 3:31pm

See…environmentalists don’t believe in science. Not unless they can use it to support whatever weird arguments they come up with. If it doesn’t support what they want, then they no longer believe in it.

• ##### Athinkerinaseaoflibs
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:49am

Helium is a result of radioactive decay of various materials in the earth. We get nearly all of it from natural gas wells as a byproduct. Here is another example of the unintended consequences of the government getting involved. Originally because the Navy needed the Helium to fill lighter than air balloons, they declared that they owned it all. Hydrogen turned out to be a bad idea. (By the way the Navy really does not need to hold the market on Helium anymore).

The people who drilled a well and got Helium were cursed. They spent a lot of money to drill the well but they were not going to make any money since the gas they got belonged to the Navy already by governmental edict. They would hide it and if wasn’t too much of the stuff, they would allow it to blow off if they could away with it. If there was a true market allowed develop for the Helium, they would then conserve and sell it off. By the way your kid’s party balloon would have cost a lot more. The government sells the stuff off at a price much less than it cost to gather it in the first place.

Again I ask the question: “When is the government going to wise up and realize that the founding fathers really were inspired when the crafted the Constitution?” If they had in this case they would have had nothing to do with this.

• ##### Polarized America
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:47am

“”1,600 tones of helium escape Earth every year. They are too light for gravity to keep them around, so they get lost. Gone into space.”"”
……………………………
If helium is too light for Gravity, then it can;t weigh anything !!

• ##### Kankokage
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:15am

The article and author do not have this concept right. It isn’t that the force of gravity doesn’t affect helium, it is that the density of helium is so much lower than the main components of air (nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor) that the buoyant force exceeds the opposite gravitational force. This same principle is why certain things float in water, you know, like really small rocks and churches.

• ##### Arruba
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:46am

So, lets cut to the chase. How much of our money do they want to save the earth from certain doom? The point of all these global warming, the earth is doomed scientific studies is to take our money. Follow the money!

• ##### MainThingIsDontGetExcited
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:42am

Global Weight Loss is a issue that is caused by humans and only the government will be able to correct it. We need to set up a new government agency to tax business for allowing this to happen.

Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:41am

Burning oil. Eating food and passing gas. I’m a genius!

• ##### GhostOfJefferson
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:41am

I wasn’t aware that Rosie O’Donnell took an annual trip into space. Who knew?

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:46am

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:48am

She’s a “hefty lefty!”

• ##### Snowleopard {gallery of cat folks}
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:40am

I thought when the headline read 50K tonnes lost daily they had sent Michael Moore into space.

Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:35am

@ flipper1073 it is: What are TONNES?
@ Calm Voice of Reason: “the tonne is a megagram (Mg) a metric ton”, not to be confused with a ton, which in “the United States and Canada however, a ton is defined to be 2,000 pounds (907 kg)”

• ##### kspatriot
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:34am

I would think the billions of barrels of oil removed from the ground would cause a weight loss. The oil burned as fuels would put off and exaust which is much lighter that the original oil was.

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:34am

Moochell has the earth on a diet.

• ##### Gonzo
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:22am

You get that space dust in your carpets and it’s hard to get out.

• ##### flipper1073
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:31am

get tones of it myself

• ##### Gonzo
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:59am

I get ‘tonnes” of it myself.

• ##### flipper1073
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:21am

What’s TONNES ?

• ##### Calm Voice of Reason
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:26am

@Flipper1073: It’s 2,000 pounds.

• ##### noleftturn
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:28am

…. duzn’t any anywon at the Blase no how to uze a spel checer?

• ##### flipper1073
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:28am

Then they go from bad to worse tones
it’s TONS

• ##### caleejr
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:32am

since the article is BBC – tonnes is the British term for TON.

English Tonne = 2240 pounds, US Ton=2000 pounds

• ##### Rick494
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:37am

It’s a metric unit equal to 1,000 kg or about 2,205 lbs.

• ##### BOMUSTGO
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:40am

Always consider the source.Those Britts like Aluminium rims for their Tyers.

• ##### sonseeker
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:42am

It British for etric ton about 2200 lbs

• ##### Calm Voice of Reason
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:43am

My mistake, I thought the English was equivalent to the U.S. measurement.

• ##### Stoic one
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 10:44am

A metric tonne is 1,000,000 grams which is approximately 2240 pounds (35,840 ounces)

• ##### DD313
Posted on February 6, 2012 at 11:29am

No, it’s 2205 pounds, a metric ton, or 1000 kilograms.