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It interesting that we have explored further into space than we have explored the depths of the Earth. The main reason for that is the pressure and the heat. We know through seismography that temperatures in the inner parts of the Earth actually exceed the surface temperature of the Sun! That is pretty hot. So why is the center of the Earth Hot. The answer comes from a lot different sources. The first is heat left over from the formation of the Earth. The next source is gravitational pressure put on core by tidal forces and the rotation of the Earth. The last known source of heat is the radioactive decay of elements in the inner part of the Earth.
The Earth is pretty old at 4 billion years old and there are still things we don’t completely understand about its formation. We do know that gravity played a role pulling in more matter and compressing it to form the Earth. When you have matter colliding at high velocities like it did in the early stages of the Solar System’s development all that kinetic energy has to go somewhere. In the case of Earth that energy was turned into heat. This heat is the initial source for the temperatures in the Earth’s interior.
The next source of heat is gravitational pressure. The Earth is under immense pressure due to the tidal forces exerted by the Sun, the Moon, and the other planets in the Solar System. When you include the fact that it is also rotating the Earth’s core is under immense pressure. This pressure basically keeps the core hot in the same way as a pressure cooker. It also helps to minimize the heat it loses.
The last and most important source of heat is nuclear fission of heavly elements in the Earth’s interior. In short the Earth has a nuclear engine inside it. It is thank to the continous nuclear fission of elements in the Earth’s interior that replaces the heat the Earth loses keeping it nice and hot. This fission process occurs in the form of radioactive decay. It also creates the convection currents in the mantle that drive plate tectonics.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about planet Earth. Listen here, Episode 51: Earth.