The traditional view of the Earth’s interior has the crust (where we live), the upper and inner mantle, the outer core, and the inner core; wrapped around each other like layers of an onion. But now textbooks will need to be revised. It turns out there’s an inner, inner core.
The core of Earth is known to have an inner core of solid iron about 2,400 km (1,500 miles). Wrapped around that is a fluid outer core that reaches 7,000 km across (4,300 miles). As the solid core rotates inside the fluid core, it generates the magnetic field that helps us navigate, and protects the planet from harmful radiation and the effects of the solar wind.
Geologists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chamaign have been probing the interior of the planet, trying to get a better sense of its structure. And that’s harder than it sounds. You can’t just look down through thousands of km of solid rock.
There were using the natural waves that pass through the Earth after earthquakes shake on the surface. The waves are bent and reflected as they pass through the various layers inside the planet.
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The team was specifically studying how the waves were affected as they passed through the solid inner core and were surprised to see that it wasn’t a uniform sphere of iron.
Instead, the seismic waves clearly showed that there’s an additional layer at a diameter of 1,180 km (733 miles), which makes this less than half the diameter of the inner core.
This is the Earth’s inner, inner core.
So what is it? Here’s what the lead scientists, Xiaodong Song had to say:
“Our results suggest the outer inner core is composed of iron crystals of a single phase with different degrees of preferred alignment along Earthâ€™s spin axis,” Sun said. “The inner inner core may be composed of a different phase of crystalline iron or have a different pattern of alignment.”
It’s still iron, just not in the same crystalline structure. Perhaps its time to give the layers new names, inner inner core doesn’t quite work for me.
Original Source: University of Illinois News Release