BY KRISTIN A. BARYN
SC Contributing Writer
Studying volcanic rock has brought researchers closer to understanding how the Earth formed billions of years ago.
Scientists have developed a timeline of how the planet and its atmosphere formed by examining basalt derived from cooling lava.
After their examination of basalt in its liquid form at extremely high pressures and temperatures, scientists found that molten magma once formed an ocean within Earth’s mantle, making up two layers of fluid divided by a crystalline layer.
Although scientists agree that the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, and the early planet would have been molten due to volcanic activity, they now aim to discover how the planet’s core and crust acquired their shapes. They also strive to discover how the Earth’s volcanic activity developed.
According to an article in Nature, “Silicate liquids play a key part at all stages of deep Earth evolution, ranging from core and crust formation billions of years ago to present-day volcanic activity.”
In order to replicate the conditions of the Earth’s core, researchers placed basalt under pressures equivalent to almost one billion times that of Earth’s atmosphere and temperatures above 2,000 degrees Celsius.
Under the extreme pressure, the basalt’s silicon atoms altered the way they formed bonds, resulting in a denser magma.
“Modern labs make it possible for scientists to recreate conditions deep in Earth’s core, and give us valuable insight into how materials behave at such extremes. This helps us build on what we already know about how Earth formed,” said Dr. Chrystele Sanloup, a participant in the study from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy.
The study’s findings help reveal how magma behaves deep within the Earth’s core, and scientists hope that these studies will give concrete evidence of how the Earth formed its core and crust.
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