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'Eternals': how did that Celestial stay hidden for so long?


‘Eternals’: how did that Celestial stay hidden for so long?

Simple seismology should have noticed it a century ago.

Movies have given us a lot of difficult-to-believe scenarios to wrap our heads around. As understanding fans of cinema, we accept the need to keep our minds open to fanciful ideas, so we can enjoy the experience. Sometimes, though, there are things we simply can’t look past, due to the sheer amount of reality we’re asked to ignore.

As a geophysicist, the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes this to an entirely new level for me with The Eternals. Major spoilers for the film ahead.

In the movie, the godlike humanoid beings called Celestials created the monstrous Deviants to destroy the major predators on Earth and other planets. The Eternals are then sent to protect the sentient creatures from the Deviants, so they can flourish and develop.

Arishem the Celestial, "The Eternals"

But the Celestials have an ulterior motive. Early in a planet’s history, they plant an egg in its core, which grows a new Celestial using the energy of the sentient beings. When the population reaches a critical point, the new Celestial emerges, destroying the world but seeding the universe with the potential for new life. The Eternals’ memories are then wiped clean and they’re sent to another planet to repeat the process, believing it’s actually their first mission.

In the present day, the human population is close to reaching this critical point. The Eternals discover the truth about the Celestials, and decide they really like the humans and don’t want to see the Earth destroyed. So they gather together as a group for the first time in a few thousand years and use their collective power to turn the emerging Celestial to marble, thus saving the Earth and humanity.

But really, humanity should have known about the gestating Celestial much earlier.

Seismology has existed in instrumental form since 1857, when Robert Mallet was doing experiments with explosives, but human interest in the science of earthquakes goes back to antiquity. We’ve dedicated hundreds of years of study to understanding the dynamics of the internal layers of our planet. Theoretical calculations in the late 1800s indicated that Earth has an iron core.

Which was pretty much confirmed in 1906 by measuring the differences in arrival times of P-, S-, and surface waves, created by earthquakes. P-waves (pressure/primary waves) are longitudinal and involve compression and expansion in the direction of the wave (think about an accordion). These are the first waves to arrive and are able to travel through solids, liquids, and gases. S-waves (shear/secondary waves) move at half the speed of P-waves, perpendicular to the direction of motion (like a whip). These waves arrive second and only travel through solids. Surface waves are the result of P- and S-waves interacting with the surface of the Earth.

By the 1960s, seismology had established a comprehensive theory of the causation of seismic events, and geodetic motions had come together in the now well-established theory of plate tectonics, which indicates a solid inner core and a molten outer core, surrounded by a thicker mantle with the more rigid crust on top. When earthquake waves interact with the different materials, their speed and direction are altered in predictable, measurable ways. We’re able to verify the existence of the Earth’s layers by studying the different waves from major earthquakes, as they travel to the various seismic stations around the globe. 

The Global Seismographic Network (GSN) is a permanent, digital network of more than 150 seismic stations in 80 countries around the world. This broadband, high-dynamic range seismometer system measures earthquakes as they happen, and is sensitive enough to detect the response of the Earth to the movements of the Sun and the Moon. Wouldn’t that have noticed the growth of a planet-sized, humanoid robot-god?

It might start out small, but as the Celestial grows, core and mantle material are going to be pushed out and around, causing major changes like mountain formation, land collapse, and shifting sea levels and locations. As the size of the fledgling Celestial stabilizes this would decrease, but any movement of the Celestial inside the egg would surely cause earthquakes, creating very strange data for the GSN.

Then there’s the “Emergence” itself. As the new Celestial begins to crawl out of the planet, the damage wouldn’t be contained to the location from which it emerges. As it breaks through the mantle and the crust, the displacement of material would cause volcanoes to erupt, land to collapse into the void being left behind, global earthquakes, and massive tsunamis. Turning the Celestial to marble once it reached the surface wouldn’t accomplish much. The only way the Eternals could have saved the Earth would be if they’d turned the embryonic Celestial into an iron-nickel alloy to match the existing core and maintain the status quo.

'Eternals': how did that Celestial stay hidden for so long?

As literally unbelievable as the events of The Eternals are, I guess there is some value in demonstrating just why and how. The same simple techniques can show the conspiracy theorists how we know the Earth isn’t flat or hollow, too.

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture. 

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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