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What Would Happen if a Ball the Size of Texas Fell Into the Ocean?

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What would happen if a ball the size of Texas fell into the ocean? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Dave Consiglio, Chemistry and Physics High School Teacher and Community College Professor, on Quora:

What would happen if a ball the size of Texas fell into the ocean? There are lots of variables to consider here.

First: Wood. So there's lots of kinds of wood. Hardwood, softwood, etc. Let's go with a density of around .7 g/cm^3 (which seems to be about average).

Second: Speed. "Fell" is a bit vague. This fall could be ping-pong speed or asteroid speed.

Let's run the gambit of possible outcomes, which not surprisingly range from "everyone dies" to "everyone dies."

Option 1: The ball is gently placed on the surface of the ocean.

Since the density is about 0.7 g/cm^3, about 70% of this ball will be submerged below the water. Texas is around 700 miles across, on average, which means that roughly 490 miles of this ball would be submerged. Oh, wait, the oceans are only a couple of miles deep. Heck, the atmosphere is only about 150 miles thick.

So the ball would be sticking out into space by roughly 550 miles.

The mass of this ball is roughly 5.2 x 10^20 kg, or about 1/100th the mass of the moon. This is really heavy, and not surprisingly, the crust is totally incapable of supporting the weight. But before it can crush the crust, bore its way into our core, and end life as we know it, it has to push some ocean out of the way. Let's plop our Texaball down in an empty patch of the Pacific, so there's room for it to do its thing without hitting any land.

You might think that a huge tsunami would result, wiping out cities in a huge wave. And you'd be right, except that the cities will already be flattened.

Texaball creates three great disturbances--one in the air, one in the water and one in the rocks of the crust. Sound travels at different speeds in those materials, from slow in the air (around 343 m/s), to medium speed in the water (1,433 m/s or so), to very fast in the rocks (around 5,000 m/s).

So Texaball would make a huge air blast, and a huge water blast (tsunami), but it would also make a huge rock blast that travels far faster than the others.

As Texaball settles into the ocean, the tsunami gets a head start. Texaball displaces around 4,500 cubic miles of water and sends it out in all directions in a 2-mile-high tsunami.

But just a few moments later, Texaball hits the crust and begins to bore into the center of the Earth due to its massive weight. This impact and boring sends a rock tsunami (tsurocki? Rocknami?) hurtling through the crust at over 11,000 miles per hour. In less than an hour, the earthquake starts to hit the Pacific coastal cities.

They don't handle it well.

This isn't an Earthquake so much as it is a complete pulverization of the rocks beneath these cities. Cities don't just crumble. Buildings are thrown into the sky. Streets, parks, schools, trees are all thrown around in much the same way you might make a Lego city and then whisk it away with your arm.

This wave of devastation flows around the Earth, wiping out everything in its path. On the far side of the globe, the rocknami hits itself and bounces off, ringing the Earth like a bell. A bell whose surface we all live on. Well, lived.

Behind the rocknami comes the tsunami, as slower but still really deadly water waves scour the remnants of what was civilization from the surface of the Earth and carry it out to sea.

The ball sinks into the mantle, where it starts to decompose into its constituent elements (C, H and O predominantly). The carbon and hydrogen burn in the oxygen of the air, consuming much of our atmospheric oxygen (not that we care--we're not there to breathe it). The stresses of Texaball entering the mantle crack the crust all over the place, allowing magma to seep out. This magma also burns, consuming the rest of our oxygen, covering the land with liquid rock, and killing anyone who miraculously survived Rocknami 2016.

"Everyone dies™"

Option 2: The ball hits the ocean with a great deal of speed, like an asteroid impact.

See Option 1.

It turns out that this increased speed changes almost nothing. Texaball will still make a megatsunami and rocknami, both of which take some time to permeate through the Earth. Texaball gets much farther into the mantle than it does in Option 1, and huge chunks of Earth are launched into the sky, orbit, or even out into interstellar space. But energy isn't going to be transmitted through the rocks any faster than the speed of sound in those rocks. As a result, the world can read about the impact on Twitter, and then wait a few hours for the supersonic (in air) wave of death to find you where you lay, and bring with it the ringing sound of the end of the world.

"Everyone dies™"

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