Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Iron 'snow' helps maintain Mercury's magnetic field

New scientific evidence suggests that deep inside the planet Mercury, iron “snow” forms and falls toward the center of the planet, much like snowflakes form in Earth’s atmosphere and fall to the ground.

The movement of this iron snow could be responsible for Mercury’s mysterious magnetic field, say researchers from the University of Illinois and Case Western Reserve University. In a paper published in the April issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists describe laboratory measurements and models that mimic conditions believed to exist within Mercury’s core.

“Mercury’s snowing core opens up new scenarios where convection may originate and generate global magnetic fields,” said U. of I. geology professor Jie (Jackie) Li. “Our findings have direct implications for understanding the nature and evolution of Mercury’s core, and those of other planets and moons.”

Mercury is the innermost planet in our solar system and, other than Earth, the only terrestrial planet that possesses a global magnetic field. Discovered in the 1970s by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft, Mercury’s magnetic field is about 100 times weaker than Earth’s. Most models cannot account for such a weak magnetic field.

Made mostly of iron, Mercury’s core is also thought to contain sulfur, which lowers the melting point of iron and plays an important role in producing the planet’s magnetic field.

“Recent Earth-based radar measurements of Mercury’s rotation revealed a slight rocking motion that implied the planet’s core is at least partially molten,” said Illinois graduate student Bin Chen, the paper’s lead author. “But, in the absence of seismological data from the planet, we know very little about its core.”

To better understand the physical state of Mercury’s core, the researchers used a multi-anvil apparatus to study the melting behavior of an iron-sulfur mixture at high pressures and high temperatures.

In each experiment, an iron-sulfur sample was compressed to a specific pressure and heated to a specific temperature. The sample was then quenched, cut in two, and analyzed with a scanning electron microscope and an electron probe microanalyzer.

“Rapid quenching preserves the sample’s texture, which reveals the separation of the solid and liquid phases, and the sulfur content in each phase,” Chen said. “Based on our experimental results, we can infer what is going on in Mercury’s core.”

As the molten, iron-sulfur mixture in the outer core slowly cools, iron atoms condense into cubic “flakes” that fall toward the planet’s center, Chen said. As the iron snow sinks and the lighter, sulfur-rich liquid rises, convection currents are created that power the dynamo and produce the planet’s weak magnetic field.

Mercury’s core is most likely precipitating iron snow in two distinct zones, the researchers report. This double-snow state may be unique among the terrestrial planets and terrestrial-like moons in our solar system.

“Our findings provide a new context into which forthcoming observational data from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft can be placed,” Li said. “We can now connect the physical state of our innermost planet with the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets in general.”

James E. Kloeppel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected
20.03.2018 | GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre

nachricht Wandering greenhouse gas
16.03.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected

20.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>