Super-Earths may have life-protecting magnetic shields: study
Under the heat and pressure that exist inside super-Earths, magnesium oxide and other minerals commonly found in the rocky mantles of the terrestrial planets, transform into liquid metals, laboratory tests have shown, Discovery News reported. Super-Earths are planets beyond the solar system that are bigger than Earth but smaller than gas giants like Neptune.
The research has implications for understanding conditions on super-Earths, including whether they might be favourable for supporting life.
Scientists zapped a piece of magnesium oxide with high-powered lasers to simulate the heat and pressure that would exist on planets roughly three to 10 times as massive as Earth.
They discovered that the clear ceramic mineral first morphed into a solid with a new crystal structure, then completely transformed into a liquid metal.
In that state, the liquid mineral may be able to sustain a physics phenomenon called a "dynamo" action, which is responsible for generating magnetic fields.
"It is often thought that a planetary magnetic field protects life on a planet's surface from harmful space radiation, like cosmic rays. What we find is that magnetic fields may exist on more super-Earth planets than expected, resulting from the transformation of the planet's rocks to metals in the deep interior. This could create new environments for life in the universe," geophysicist Stewart McWilliams, with the Carnegie Institution and Howard University in Washington DC, wrote in an email to Discovery News.
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