The Crazy, Cool, and Wonderful Story of Water

by Kathryn on February 24, 2013

Water, Water Everywhere

The mission for this Odyssey Magazine article: teach the water cycle, but take it beyond the happy little diagram that pops up in every grade school textbook. This article is about the water cycle not just from sea to clouds to ground and back to sea, but about water from its birth in outer space, to its passage through the mantle of the Earth and out of volcanoes, to its workings inside the cells of our bodies.

That’s a lot to cover!

The broadest articles are always the hardest to write and research. Scientists tends focus on very specific things, so for this article I had to talk to at least three different people (I wound up talking to four): an astronomer, a mineralogist, an oceanographer, and a biochemist.

Fascinating facts I learned about water:

  • There’s a nebula located roughly in the middle of Orion’s belt where lots and lots of water is constantly being created (stars are being born there, too).
  • Outer space contains tiny grains of dust — too small to see — that gather ice molecule by molecule over millions and billions of years, or stick to other floating grains, and eventually form comets and asteroids that smash into planets, thus carrying water to the planet. (This isn’t necessarily how Earth’s water got here, but it’s one idea).
  • Hydrous minerals are rocks that contain water – with the right temperature and pressure, you can squeeze water from these rocks!
  • That squeezing happens in the Earth’s mantle, and the water vapor that gets released comes shooting out of volcanoes.
  • The main reason people need to drink water is in order to sweat and pee (so we can control body temperature and get rid of toxins in our bodies). But water also helps with chemical reactions in our cells.

The inspiration for this article came from the book The Big Thirst, by Charles Fishman. ┬áIt’s a great read, and focuses mainly on the economic impacts of human water use — another fascinating subject.


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