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Earth's fragile surface

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By Kirsten Peters

My friend Sharon Rogers lives in suburban Virginia.
On Tuesday she and her husband were leaving their house to go to a late lunch when she felt something like thunder sweeping over the neighborhood.
“I thought it was a military jet going over too low,” she told me on the telephone. “I said to myself, ‘It’s another damn general being buried in Arlington.’”
 It was no jet, but a Richter 5.9 earthquake that struck near Mineral, VA.
Why, you may ask, should there have been an earthquake in what is supposed to be the seismically placid East Coast?
Allow me to answer by way of an analogy.
I think of the Earth as being like a raw egg. The core is made of distinctive stuff – the yolk of the egg corresponding to the metal-rich core of the Earth. Around the core is a squishy, liquid-like material – the white of the egg or Earth’s middle layer of material that allows the tectonic plates to move.
Then there is the dicey, topmost layer, and therein lies the trouble for us. We live on that top layer of the Earth, corresponding to the brittle eggshell.
The rocks right under our feet are always under stress and, like an eggshell, sometimes they break.


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