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Laser experiments lend insight into metal core at heart of the Earth


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

Laser experiments lend insight into metal core at heart of the Earth
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: Alexander Goncharov]
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 liquid metal.

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.

Laser experiments lend insight into metal core at heart of the Earth
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 planets where nitrogen is the main ingredient - greater even than oxygen. Our study shows this nitrogen could have emerged from deep inside the planet."

Source: University of Edinburgh [July 06, 2018]

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