Monday, January 2, 2012

Ball three meters will simulate the Earth's core

Our planet still reserves many surprises, starting with its internal structure. We have theoretical models that can simulate with some accuracy the stratification of the Earth, the composition of the planetary core, and phenomena such as the Earth's electromagnetic field, but to know for sure what is going on inside our planet you must achieve a "Miniature Earth ".

Researchers at the University of Maryland have built a ball three feet in diameter to simulate (hopefully) the behavior of the Earth's core and other internal dynamics of the planet.

The ball will be filled with 13 tons of liquid sodium maintained at a constant temperature of 105 ° C. The researchers hope that the internal rotation of the spheres and the liquid sodium can trigger the generation of an electromagnetic field constant. If the experiment not work, would be the first to be able to accurately simulate the creation of a planetary electromagnetic field.

"The dynamics are generated easily in nature," explains Daniel Lathrop, the project leader. "This is not true for the laboratory." Despite the difficulties and the uncertain outcome of the simulation, could be an opportunity to obtain valuable data on what happens 3,000 kilometers under our feet, a depth that can be probed only indirectly through the "bounce" of seismic waves.

The ball-planet is composed of two concentric spheres: the smaller the diameter of about one meter, is the inner core and the outer the Earth's mantle . The space between the two spheres is filled with liquid sodium to simulate the outer layer of the Earth's core, composed mainly of molten iron.

By rotating the two spheres in a synchronized or asynchronous (up to rotations of 4 and 12 for the external and internal), Lathrop and his colleagues will investigate how the heat and the rotation can influence the movement of the liquid iron core.

Up to this point, the experiment should not encounter any problems. The question that no one can yet answer is whether the liquid sodium will behave in the same way as the iron melted, creating a "geodynamo" and a continuous magnetic field.

"Everyone in the scientific community are waiting with bated breath," said Andrew Jackson, a geophysicist of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. "They're asking questions for which we have no answers."

The planetary sphere of Lathrop is not the first attempt to recreate the dynamics of the geomagnetic our planet, but it is certainly the most impressive, and probably one that will provide the most interesting data.
Other spheres have been constructed in American and French laboratories, but do not exceed three feet in diameter, in some cases can not rotate, and have collected more than anything else on the fluid dynamics data without creating a dynamo.

If the ball were to work as researchers hope, could reveal key details about the origin of Earth's magnetic field and its changes.

The ball is almost ready to be activated. In January 2012 will be filled with 13 tons of liquid sodium and then be reconfigured last time before ignition.

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