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  • Writer's pictureSiheli Siyathra

What If The Earth Turned Into Gold?

Let’s say that Midas existed in real life. Midas was the king who was cursed so that everything he touched turned into gold. Midas’s curse is a very special phenomenon that defies all rules of physics - magic. So, what really happens when Midas touches something?

An atom of gold has 79 protons and 118 neutrons in its nucleus. The electric force of the protons on the neutrons gives gold its characteristics: shiny, bendy, etc. So, to make not-gold into gold, we have to change atoms. Let’s say that Midas touches a duck. All the light elements like hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen gain electrons, protons, and neutrons to turn into gold. Not only is the duck suddenly 33 times more massive, but it’s also much too dense. The gold atoms are much too close than they like, and they start repelling each other with enormous force. This causes the duck to explode with the energy of half a ton of TNT, leaving only a pile of gold dust and a very dead Midas. So, you can imagine how it would go if Midas turned the Earth into gold the same way.

But what if Midas’s power uses the atoms that are already present and rearranges them in a way that would give gold as the output? No matter is created or destroyed. Instead, atoms dissolve, and the protons, neutrons, and electrons are reassembled to create gold. However, gold is very dense. About 20 times denser than a duck. Without adding any matter, the gold duck would be a very awkward kind of foamy gold with lots of microscopic gaps. This doesn’t explode, which is progress. Now that we’ve established a sort of magic that works, let’s test it on Earth.

Suddenly, Midas stumbles and touches the Earth. Just like the duck, Earth is now solid gold, but with tiny atomic-scale gaps. While these gaps weren’t a huge deal for the duck, they’re a big problem for the Earth. A spongy planet cannot exist, as gravity compresses Earth, squeezing it together to close up the gaps. As a result, the Earth contracts, shrinking to two-thirds of its radius. If you’re unlucky enough to be on Earth’s surface you’ll experience a free fall, as the ground sinks away beneath you. But since the ground is falling too, it doesn’t move away from you. If would feel like someone turned off gravity, and you would start floating. After about 10 weird minutes, gravity is turned back on. The Earth has reached its desired size. Well, I hope you enjoyed your 10 minutes of floating because now, you will fall to the ground at immense speed and splatter like a water balloon as you make contact. In one instant all of humanity gets splattered into red puddles.

This is only the start of problems, though, since Earth imploded supersonically. The kinetic energy of the implosion is equivalent to detonating a planet made of TNT. Crushed under enormous pressures, Earth’s core reaches a million degrees Celsius. A temperature close to the core of a star than anything else. As the Earth crashes into itself, it generates a huge shock wave that catapults the atmosphere off the planet. The Earth’s surface temperature reaches a hundred thousand degrees and everything on it is instantly vaporized into a fluffy plasma cloud. Many of the new atoms join this plasma cloud while others boil off, escaping from the atmosphere. The plasma cloud outshines the sun while its radiation lifts tons of material off into space. Eventually, the cloud cools down, solidifying into a small golden ball.

Okay, maybe this type of magic doesn’t work. So, replacing the atoms made Earth so over-dense it exploded, and disassembling and reassembling atoms made it so under-dense it imploded. Shouldn’t there be a sweet spot where the Earth does neither? What if Midas’s power is such that an object is suddenly replaced by an object with the same volume that is made of solid gold? That magic is a little bit more magic and cuts a few extra corners, but let’s see where this leads us.

So, Midas stumbles again. Even though our new, pure-gold Earth is not expanding or contracting, it’s suddenly much more massive. The density of gold is 3 ½ times more than that of Earth, meaning that our planet is now 3 ½ times more massive. For starters, everyone has to contend with surface gravity that is three times stronger than the normal amount. So, if you’re not a champion weight-lifter who is used to carrying around a few times the weight of your body, you would collapse under your own weight. Trees and artificial structures collapse under a stress that they were never meant to sustain. Birds, planes, and anything else that was floating come crashing down around you.

And you’re not the only thing weighed down by gravity. The weight of the atmosphere and the atmospheric pressure nearly quadruple, which is a bad thing if you like living. Squeezing the atmosphere this much would take its temperature up to 150 degrees Celsius. The entire surface of the Earth bakes, destroying everything and anything in the process. Gold may be a metal, but it’s about three times weaker than steel and also very malleable. This means that it isn’t very good mountain material. The tallest mountains are now about 2 km tall. We’re probably in for huge earthquakes and landslides, as the planet is squeezed into a new shape. During this transformation, oceans overflow, sending tidal waves all over the world. What remains is a planet made of gold, with oceans 3 km deep, a super hot atmosphere, and a lot of dead people.

Hmm, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want the Earth to implode, explode or get super hot. I think we should leave it the way it is.

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