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!
New studies increase confidence in NASA's measure of Earth's temperature
24.05.2019 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
New Measurement Device: Carbon Dioxide As Geothermometer
21.05.2019 | Universität Heidelberg
A new assessment of NASA's record of global temperatures revealed that the agency's estimate of Earth's long-term temperature rise in recent decades is accurate to within less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, providing confidence that past and future research is correctly capturing rising surface temperatures.
The most complete assessment ever of statistical uncertainty within the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) data product shows that the annual values...
Physicists at the University of Basel are able to show for the first time how a single electron looks in an artificial atom. A newly developed method enables them to show the probability of an electron being present in a space. This allows improved control of electron spins, which could serve as the smallest information unit in a future quantum computer. The experiments were published in Physical Review Letters and the related theory in Physical Review B.
The spin of an electron is a promising candidate for use as the smallest information unit (qubit) of a quantum computer. Controlling and switching this spin or...
Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...
With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.
Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...
'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.
However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...
29.04.2019 | Event News
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
27.05.2019 | Information Technology
24.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2019 | Medical Engineering