Laser experiments shed light on Earth's core

Intense conditions turn nitrogen metallic
Nitrogen is the dominant gas in Earth's atmosphere, where it is most-commonly bonded with itself in diatomic N2 molecules. New work indicate that it becomes a metallic fluid when subjected to the extreme pressure and temperature conditions found deep inside the Earth and other planets. Credit: Illustration courtesy of Alexander Goncharov.

Scientists have discovered fresh insights into the metallic core at the centre of our planet.

The findings could aid understanding of how the Earth was formed from elements in space, some 10 billion years ago.

They could also shed light on the fundamental physical nature of nitrogen, one of the most abundant elements in the .

An international team of researchers carried out sophisticated experiments to replicate at the Earth's core.

Using high energy laser beams and optical sensors, they were able to observe how samples of nitrogen behaved at more than 1 million times normal atmospheric pressure and temperatures above 3,000C.

Their observations confirmed that, under such conditions, nitrogen exists as a .

The findings give scientists valuable insight into how nitrogen behaves at extreme conditions, which could aid understanding of how the planets were formed.

It may help to explain why Earth is the only planet known to have an abundance of nitrogen in its atmosphere—where it exists as a gas. Nitrogen in the air could emerge from deeper within the planet, where, for example, it could mix with other liquid metal.

Chinese scientists achieve success in nitrogen metallization
P-T phase diagram of nitrogen. Credit: JIANG Shuqing

The findings could also shed light on how the planet's atmosphere evolved and how it may develop in future.

Their study, carried out by the University of Edinburgh with researchers in China and the US, was published in Nature Communications. It was supported by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council and the British Council.

Dr. Stewart McWilliams, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, who took part in the study, said: "Earth's atmosphere is the only one of all the where nitrogen is the main ingredient—greater even than oxygen. Our study shows this could have emerged from deep inside the planet."

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Video: Earth as a planet

More information: Shuqing Jiang et al, Metallization and molecular dissociation of dense fluid nitrogen, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05011-z
Journal information: Nature Communications

Citation: Laser experiments shed light on Earth's core (2018, July 6) retrieved 24 September 2019 from
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Jul 06, 2018
The findings could aid understanding of how the Earth was formed from elements in space, some 10 billion years ago.

If the reporter wants to use a round number, 5 billion is a lot closer.

Jul 07, 2018
Perhaps humans should count themselves as very fortunate, indeed, to have such an atmosphere where Oxygen is not a major volume of air instead of Nitrogen at 78%. Oxydation generally means rusting away.

Jul 07, 2018
Hm, I wonder if there's any life in (or rather around) the Earth's core... There seems to be a rich environment there, though completely different from the surface. Any critter living there would have little knowledge about the outside, unless it has neutrino senses. :)

Jul 07, 2018
Same as @realscience:
"The findings could aid understanding of how the Earth was formed from elements in space, some 10 billion years ago."
What a sentence... some elements that later formed the solar system can have been formed 10 or 13 billion years ago but not the solar system itself (4,5).

Jul 07, 2018
Gigel please, shhhh...

You know the Hollow Earth is suppose to be tiptop secret. So we don't have to put up with long lines of tourists when we want to ride a dinosaur!

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