Inside This Giant Metal Sphere Lives a Miniature Version of the Earth's Spinning Core

By Andrew Liszewski on at

So how do you study the Earth's core and magnetic fields when it's protected by 1,800 miles of crust? Easy — you just build your own miniature version in a laboratory, using over 28,000 pounds of molten sodium.

That's exactly what researchers at the University of Maryland have done in a massive experiment that hopes to recreate the magnetic fields generated by the spinning liquid iron in the Earth's outer core. The project has taken ten years and over £1.3 million to come to fruition, but by early next year the team plans to generate its own self-sustaining magnetic field, which can be studied and tested in their lab.

The simulator actually comprises an inner and outer sphere, separated by the molten sodium kept at a piping 105 °C. Since the liquid conducts electricity, it's hoped that the spheres will function like a giant dynamo, producing the same fields as our planet's core. So far all of their attempts have failed, but the researchers are hoping the bigger-is-better approach of their latest attempt will yield a miniature magnetic core they can call their own. [Nature via Slashdot]