Inside Earth, Visualized

July 16, 2017

Were it not for our Earth’s magnetic field, the planet would be bombarded by charged particles from the sun. Thankfully, the Earth possesses a metallic core, the outer part of which consists of molten metal, mostly iron. The swirling motions within this core create electrical currents that in turn give rise to Earth’s magnetic field, but the exact nature of these currents aren’t completely understood. It is, as Kurt Vonnegut might have said, akin to magic, except that it works.

Now, geophysicists at the French National Center for Scientific Research (or CNRS) have created one of the most detailed and striking models of fluid patterns within the Earth’s outer core to date, to help scientists better understand the forces at play that give rise to Earth’s magnetic field.

To create the video, the scientists used computer models and data gathered in experiments. Experiments are difficult to perform, however. As Nathanaël Schaeffer from the Institut des Sciences de la Terre explains in a statement, “It’s difficult to reproduce the Earth’s magnetic field in a lab. And liquid sodium is also extremely dangerous—it can trigger a blast when it comes into contact with water.”

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