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Earth Science

First Measurement of Magnetic Field In Earth's Core 34

Posted by timothy
from the best-place-to-try-it dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A University of California, Berkeley, geophysicist has made the first-ever measurement of the strength of the magnetic field inside Earth's core, 1,800 miles underground. The magnetic field strength is 25 Gauss, or 50 times stronger than the magnetic field at the surface that makes compass needles align north-south. Though this number is in the middle of the range geophysicists predict, it puts constraints on the identity of the heat sources in the core that keep the internal dynamo running to maintain this magnetic field."
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First Measurement of Magnetic Field In Earth's Core

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  • "I still find it remarkable that we can look to distant quasars to get insights into the deep interior of our planet," Buffett said.

    I don't think we need more reasons to study space, but here's one anyway. Studying quasars billions of light years away helps us understand the Earth's magnetic field - what more support do we need for the value and interrelatedness of any and all scientific research?

  • Neato (Score:5, Informative)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Friday December 17, 2010 @09:27PM (#34596264) Journal

    He used the precession effect on Earth's core caused by the moon to calculate how much the magnetic induction deviated the calculated value of precession from the measured value. Basically, the field imparts a force that counteracts the precession of the inner core that is measurable. It's pretty clever how he was able to calculate the strength of the magnetic field the way he did:

    He realized, however, that the tug of the moon on the tilt of the earth's spin axis could provide information about the magnetic field inside. This tug would make the inner core precess – that is, make the spin axis slowly rotate in the opposite direction – which would produce magnetic changes in the outer core that damp the precession. Radio observations of distant quasars – extremely bright, active galaxies – provide very precise measurements of the changes in the earth's rotation axis needed to calculate this damping.

    "The moon is continually forcing the rotation axis of the core to precess, and we're looking at the response of the fluid outer core to the precession of the inner core," he said.

    By calculating the effect of the moon on the spinning inner core, Buffett discovered that the precession makes the slightly out-of-round inner core generate shear waves in the liquid outer core. These waves of molten iron and nickel move within a tight cone only 30 to 40 meters thick, interacting with the magnetic field to produce an electric current that heats the liquid. This serves to damp the precession of the rotation axis. The damping causes the precession to lag behind the moon as it orbits the earth. A measurement of the lag allowed Buffett to calculate the magnitude of the damping and thus of the magnetic field inside the outer core.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:36PM (#34596598) Journal

    Did they find out when the magnetic dynamo will cool down, running out of steam, leaving the Earth naked to the overly-spicy energy of space; baking our DNA into wispy little snippets of death-inducing mutations; sending all us land-dwelling mammals into a deep, eternal nap; with our limbs and genitals joining a new journey as worm nutrients?

    Or, are they still working on that question?

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday December 17, 2010 @10:49PM (#34596652) Homepage Journal

      In a thousand years or so, fossil fuels will be gone. In a hundred thousand years the biosphere will be totally run down by human exploitation, unless we manage it end to end as a farm. In a billion years (or so) the suns output will have changed to move the habitable zone away from the Earth. In five billion years the sun will become a red giant and we will all be toast.

      I don't know when we will lose the magnetic field but if it happens anywhere after a thousand years from now we should be able to build our own. If we can't then we are not much of an intelligent species and we will be heading for extinction anyway.

      • by PPH (736903)

        and we will all be toast.

        Toast, pâté de foie gras. You're making me hungry.

      • by Waccoon (1186667)

        No worries. By then, I doubt we'll be the species, anyway.

      • by ikeman32 (1333971)

        In a thousand years or so, fossil fuels will be gone. In a hundred thousand years the biosphere will be totally run down by human exploitation, unless we manage it end to end as a farm. In a billion years (or so) the suns output will have changed to move the habitable zone away from the Earth. In five billion years the sun will become a red giant and we will all be toast.

        I don't know when we will lose the magnetic field but if it happens anywhere after a thousand years from now we should be able to build our own. If we can't then we are not much of an intelligent species and we will be heading for extinction anyway.

        If the human race manages to survive another thousand years without vaporizing ourselves or pissing off some extraterrestrial race first.

    • by gman003 (1693318)
      The dynamo has been running for about 3.5 billion years. Thus, from simple math and statistics (and the fact that we are not currently observing the beginning or end of the dynamo), I can state with 99.999% accuracy that the field will remain for at least thirty-five thousand years (and no more than 35 trillion years). Thus, we don't need to worry about that right now.
  • Does it explain how they work?
  • ...for comment, but he was unavailable.

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