World Transformation: Understanding the Earth's Core
 Understanding the Earth's Core
picture 24 Apr 2004 @ 08:18, by ming

From Synergic Earth News: BBC Science -- Scientists working on efforts to understand the Earth's centre have made a surprising discovery: the iron core is actually much simpler than they had assumed. Researchers at the US Lawrence Livermore Laboratory who have been studying how the enormous pressure inside the planet affects the iron believe there is only one form of atomic structure to the metal. For the past 20 years, it has been assumed there were at least two. The scientists are hopeful that by cracking the structure of the core, they can understand better the temperature and pressure there. They have already established the core starts to melt at a lower pressure than previously thought. Their work has recently been published in the journal Nature. "It makes the picture a whole lot simpler," Dr Neil Holmes, one of the scientists who worked on the project, told BBC World Service's Science In Action programme. "It allows us further to focus our efforts... determining the temperature and the other properties of iron." The Earth's core is important because it generates the planet's electromagnetic field - which seems to be weakening. This is already having consequences in space, creating glitches in satellites that rely on the field to protect them from solar and other space radiation. Furthermore, scientists are keen to find out if the Earth's magnetic poles are about to "flip" - with magnetic North becoming South, and vice versa. It has happened many times before in Earth history. Dr Holmes said the key to the experiment was recreating conditions that were as close as possible to those that really existed at the centre of the planet. "We have a large gun which is 20 metres long, which fires flat, iron-faced projectiles into an iron target, making a shockwave," he said. "That shockwave only lasts for less than a millionth of a second, but during that time we can make conditions that are up to and even exceeding the pressures at the centre of the Earth." Specifically, what the scientists have found is that the iron adopts a crystalline structure, like a diamond, in the Earth's core. (01/30/04)

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