Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists find that Earth and Mars are different to the core

29.06.2007
Research comparing silicon samples from Earth, meteorites and planetary materials, published in Nature (28th June 2007), provides new evidence that the Earth’s core formed under very different conditions from those that existed on Mars. It also shows that the Earth and the Moon have the same silicon isotopic composition supporting the theory that atoms from the two mixed in the early stages of their development.

This latest research which was carried out by scientists from Oxford University along with colleagues from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) compared silicon isotopes from rocks on Earth with samples from meteorites and other solar system materials. This is the first time that isotopes have been used in this way and it has opened up a new line of scientific investigation into how the Earth’s core formed.

On Earth rocks that make up volcanoes and mountain ranges and underlie the ocean floor are made of silicate – compounds made of silicon and oxygen linked with other kinds of atoms. Silicate dominates down to a depth of 2,900 km – roughly half way to the centre of the Earth. At this point there is an abrupt boundary with the dense metallic iron core. Studies by Birch in the 1950’s demonstrated that the outer core had a density too low to be made of pure iron and that it must also be made up of some lighter elements (see notes to editors for further details).

Research team member, Bastian Georg, a post doctoral researcher from Oxford University’s Earth Sciences Department said, “We dissolved meteorites, provided by the Natural History Museum in London, in order to compare their isotopic composition with those of rocks from the Earth. The silicon was separated from other elements and the atomic proportions of isotopes measured using a particularly sophisticated mass spectrometer at the ETH in Zurich”.

Professor Alex Halliday, also from Oxford University explains, “We were quite startled at our results which showed that the heavier isotopes from silicate Earth samples contained increased proportions of the heavier isotopes of silicon. This is quite different from meteorites from the silicate portions of Mars and the large Asteroid Vesta – which do not display such an effect even though these bodies also have an iron core.”

Silicate samples from Mars and Vesta are identical to a primitive class of meteorites called chondrites that represent average solar system material from small “planetesimals” that never underwent core formation.

Professor Halliday continues, “The most likely explanation is that, unlike Mars and Vesta, the Earth’s silicon has been divided into two sorts – a portion that became a light element in the Earth’s core dissolved in metal and the greater proportion which formed the silicon-oxygen bonded silicate of the Earth’s mantle and crust.”

At depths the silicates change structure to denser forms so the isotopic make-up would depend on the pressure at which metal and silicate separate. Quantifying this effect is the subject of ongoing studies. Co-author on the paper Edwin Schauble from UCLA, has produced preliminary calculations that show that the isotopic effects found are of the right direction and magnitude.

This research provides new evidence that the Earth’s core formed under different conditions from those that existed on Mars. This could be explained in part by the difference in mass between the two planets. With Earth being eight times larger than Mars the pressure of core formation could be higher and different silicate phases may have been involved. The mass of a planet also affects the energy that is released as it accretes (or grows).

The Earth accreted most of its mass by violent collisions with other planets and planetary embryos. The bigger the planet, the greater the gravitational attraction and the higher the temperatures that are generated as the kinetic energy of impacting objects is converted to heat. Some have proposed that the outer Earth would have periodically become a “magma ocean” of molten rock as a result of such extreme high temperature events.

There is evidence that Mars stopped growing in the first few million years of the solar system and did not experience the protracted history of violent collisions that affected the Earth. There already exists compelling evidence for relatively strong magnetic fields early in martian history but a thorough understanding of the martian core must await geophysical measurements by future landers. It is however thought that the core of Mars is proportionally smaller than that of the Earth and it probably formed under lower pressures and temperatures.

The research also shows that the Moon has the same silicon isotopic composition as the Earth. This cannot be caused by high pressure core formation on the Moon which is only about one percent of the mass of the Earth. However, it is consistent with the recent proposal that the material that made the Moon during the giant impact between the proto-Earth and another planet, usually called “Theia”, was sufficiently energetic that the atoms of the disk from which the Moon formed mixed with those from the silicate Earth. This means the silicon in the silicate Earth must have already had a heavy isotopic composition before the Moon formed about 40 million years after the start of the solar system.

The research was supported from grants provided by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council, and the USA’s and Switzerland’s National Science Foundation.

Contacts
Gill Ormrod – Science and Technology Facilities Council Press Office
Tel: 01793 442012. Email: gill.ormrod@stfc.ac.uk
Pete Wilton – Oxford University Press Office
Tel: 01865 283877
Email : pete.wilton@admin.ox.ac.uk
UK Science contact
Professor Alex Halliday – Department of Earth Science, Oxford University
Tel: 07769728153
Email: alexh@earth.ox.ac.uk

Gill Ormrod | alfa
Further information:
http://www.stfc.ac.uk

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Research sheds new light on forces that threaten sensitive coastlines
24.04.2017 | Indiana University

nachricht NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor

24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Nanoimprinted hyperlens array: Paving the way for practical super-resolution imaging

24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Atomic-level motion may drive bacteria's ability to evade immune system defenses

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>