The Earth's layers, showing the Inner and Outer Core, the Mantle, and Crust. Credit: discovermagazine.com

This is Actual Science. Crystals at the Earth’s Core Power its Magnetic Field

Article written: 27 Feb , 2017
Updated: 27 Feb , 2017
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Whether or not a planet has a magnetic field goes a long way towards determining whether or not it is habitable. Whereas Earth has a strong magnetosphere that protects life from harmful radiation and keeps solar wind from stripping away its atmosphere, planet’s like Mars no longer do. Hence why it went from being a world with a thicker atmosphere and liquid water on its surface to the cold, desiccated place it is today.

For this reason, scientists have long sought to understand what powers Earth’s magnetic field. Until now, the consensus has been that it was the dynamo effect created by Earth’s liquid outer core spinning in the opposite direction of Earth’s rotation. However, new research from the Tokyo Institute of Technology suggests that it may actually be due to the presence of crystallization in the Earth’s core.

The research was conducted by scientists from the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at Tokyo Tech. According to their study – titled “Crystallization of Silicon Dioxide and Compositional Evolution of the Earth’s Core“, which appeared recently in Nature – the energy that drives the Earth’s magnetic field may have more to do with the chemical composition of the Earth’s core.

Using a diamond anvil and a laser, researchers at Tokyo Tech subjected silicon and oxygen samples to conditions similar to the Earth’s core. Credit: Sang-Heon Shim/Arizona State University

Of particular concern for the research team was the rate of which Earth’s core cools over geological time – which has been the subject of debate for some time. And for Dr. Kei Hirose – the director of the Earth-Life Science Institute and lead author on the paper – it has been something of a lifelong pursuit. In a 2013 study, he shared research findings that indicated how the Earth’s core may have cooled more significantly than previously thought.

He and his team concluded that since the Earth’s formation (4.5 billion years ago), the core may have cooled by as much as 1,000 °C (1,832 °F). These findings were rather surprising to the Earth sciences community – leading to what one scientists referred to as the “New Core Heat Paradox“. In short, this rate of core cooling would mean that some other source of energy would be required to sustain the Earth’s geomagnetic field.

On top of this, and related to the issue of core-cooling, were some unresolved questions about the chemical composition of the core. As Dr. Kei Hirose said in a Tokyo Tech press release:

“The core is mostly iron and some nickel, but also contains about 10% of light alloys such as silicon, oxygen, sulfur, carbon, hydrogen, and other compounds. We think that many alloys are simultaneously present, but we don’t know the proportion of each candidate element.”

The magnetic field and electric currents in and around Earth generate complex forces that have immeasurable impact on every day life. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

In order to resolve this, Hirose and his colleagues at ELSI conducted a series of experiments where various alloys were subjected to heat and pressure conditions similar to that in the Earth’s interior. This consisted of using a diamond anvil to squeeze dust-sized alloy samples to simulate high pressure conditions, and then heating them with a laser beam until they reached extreme temperatures.

In the past, research into iron alloys in the core have focused predominantly on either iron-silicon alloys or iron-oxide at high pressures. But for the sake of their experiments, Hirose and his colleagues decided to focus on the combination of silicon and oxygen – which are believed to exist in the outer core – and examining the results with an electron microscope.

What the researchers found was that under conditions of extreme pressure and heat, samples of silicon and oxygen combined to form silicon dioxide crystals – which were similar in composition to mineral quartz found in the Earth’s crust. Ergo, the study showed that the crystallization of silicon dioxide in the outer core would have released enough buoyancy to power core convection and a dynamo effect from as early on as the Hadean eon onward.

As John Hernlund, also a member of ELSI and a co-author of the study, explained:

“This result proved important for understanding the energetics and evolution of the core. We were excited because our calculations showed that crystallization of silicon dioxide crystals from the core could provide an immense new energy source for powering the Earth’s magnetic field.”

Cross-section of Mars revealing its inner core. Mars must have one day had such a field, but the energy source that powered it has since shut down. Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC

This study not only provides evidence to help resolve the so-called “New Core Heat Paradox”, it also may help advance our understanding of what conditions were like during the formation of Earth and the early Solar System. Basically, if silicon and oxygen form crystal of silicon dioxide in the outer core over time, then sooner or later, the process will stop once the core runs out of these elements.

When that happens, we can expect Earth’s magnetic field will suffer, which will have drastic implications for life on Earth. It also helps to put constraints on the concentrations of silicon and oxygen that were present in the core when the Earth first formed, which could go a long way towards informing our theories about Solar System formation.

What’s more, this research may help geophysicists to determine how and when other planets (like Mars, Venus and Mercury) still had magnetic fields (and possibly lead to ideas of how they could be powered up again). It could even help exoplanet-hunting science teams determine which exoplanets have magnetospheres, which would allow us to find out which extra-solar worlds could be habitable.

Further Reading: Tokyo Tech News, Nature.

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5 Responses

  1. BlackWolfStanding says

    The thing this study is over looking is when we were hit by a small planet and the moon was formed. That event would have re-heated our core. And using the study’s cooling, we are cooling at a faster rate than even the study suggests. Yes. A cold future might be waiting for us. Going to have to research this subject and commit to testing this theory. And this is a normal process of science too. Trying to prove a theory false.

  2. Member
    Aqua4U says

    Umm.. the formation of the moon via a cataclysmic collision with a Mars sized object apparently occurred some 4.5 billion years ago. This was only 30-50 million years after the formation of our solar system. This was called the Hadean era and is dated to some 4-4.5 billion years ago. The root of the term Hadean comes from the word Hades… or hell. So yes, that collision provided some of the initial heating and thermally driven convective mixing as the core condensed and is presumed to have contributed to the creation of said silicon dioxide crystalline layer thereafter.

  3. Pvt.Pantzov says

    I guess I can be grateful that it bought life on Earth a little extra time. Here’s hoping that if this theory is substantiated, we will be around in some form in the future and with the technology to help the other life forms when the process begins to wind down.

  4. orionmgomg says

    First things first! The “Science” that EVERY University is using is WRONG! Period. The “Laws of Physics” are so stupendously inaccurate it is no wonder that General “Public Domaine” Physics and Astrophysics have not progressed for almost a century!

    That said; All the Cores of the Cosmos, ALL of them, including Black Holes are Crystal Cores, with the hierarchy of Elements within their Crystal Structures, Primarily Iron, but also MUCH Denser Elements including Gold, and Plutonium, and even denser and denser elements all of which becoming more and more “Radioactive” giving the core it’s true source of power – Radioactive Crystals enveloped in the Crystal Core create extremely energetic and powerful Crystal Core Quantum Computers!

    The Cores of the Cosmos are Crystal Core Quantum Computers and their primary purpose it to Survive and Expand – the Universe and everything in it is either Contracting or Expanding – in order to Exist, you must expand, and to expand you need to expand not only yourself, and your Matter, but you need to expand the Space you occupy – and the Cores of the Cosmos set about to do exactly that!

    Space, Space-Time, Aether, Dark Energy – whatever you want to call it is the Electromagnetic Decay of all Matter in the Universe, as the Cores, as the Galaxies give off the light and EM Radiation that creates a bubble around themselves – this light eventually decays into, first, the bubble around the Galaxy that is called the “Dark Matter State”, and then eventually it decays and cools enough to become the Void, or the “Dark Energy State”… So as all the Stars glow and grow, they are expanding not only the Matter within themselves, but also the Space they occupy!

    The Return of Christ? Or the Return of Christal? Was it supposed to be; Once you silly monkeys figure out that the Universe, and everything in it, is based on a Crystal Structure Submatrix you will be able to Enlighten yourselves and evolve past the dirt you dwell in? I Digress…

    The point is this: The Universe, and everything in it is divided into 10 – 10 pressure gradients, 10 Quantum States of Gravity, 10 energy levels within a Galaxy, 10 degrees of quantum fields within a planetary gravimetric field, etc – Fractal/Decem … X_Men=God Men (No Pun Intended)

    So, Long story shorty, the Universe is a Binary System and there is Matter that is responsible for the Magnetic Field, and there is Space-Time/Dark Energy (Aether) that is responsible for the Electric Force, their interaction is the foundation of the Universe, Gravity, Time, Solidification, etc

    What is Gravity? Gravity is not a magic “Pulling In” Force – Gravity is the Electromagnetic Force that Matter exerts on the Universe, on Dark Energy that creates a “Dark Energy Field Effect” or Gravity

    What this means is that Matter is pushing away “Space-Time” and Space, or more precisely, Dark Energy is pushing back. As Matter’s EM Fields come close to each other, they create a path of least resistance and the two objects seem to have self attraction, but it is in fact Dark Energy that is pushing all Matter together

    At the Core of the Planet, or Star, etc, there is little or no Dark Energy, or “Space-Time” so… the physics that we know of here on the surface are completely different – even if you try to “Pressurize” your experiment, you need to put the entire experiment in an EXTREME Magnetic Field to get even close to the true results of the real physics at the Core.

    Needless to say, as the Core pushes away “Dark Energy” or “Space-Time” or “Space” or the “Aether” or “Zero Point Energy” or whatever you want to call it, it not only pushes away Time, it also pushes away the very interaction of the Foundation of Matter, and there is LESS HEAT, there is LESS TIME, and there is MORE ENERGY – The Core Crystallizes, and has More ElectroMagnetic Energy, and is able to use that Energy to Expand itself, its Matter, and of course the Space it occupies!

    One last thing; Motion of Matter Equals Gravity = Energy Plus ~ 10% – You can take that to the bank

    The Spiral of the Galaxy – as the Stars move out away from the center they get heavier – as they get heavier they have more energy and grow, till eventually the outer edge of the galaxy is full of giant stars and black holes and they get flung out into the void to explode in ecstasy and become galaxies of their own

    Orion Michael Guy

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