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Scientists Pin Down Timing of Lunar Dynamo’s Demise

Scientists Pin Down Timing of Lunar Dynamo’s Demise 86

A conventional compass would be of little use on the moon, which today lacks a global magnetic field. But the moon did produce a magnetic field billions of years ago, and it was likely even stronger than the Earth’s field today. Scientists believe that this lunar field, like Earth’s, was generated by a powerful dynamo — the churning of the moon’s core. At some point, this dynamo, and the magnetic field it generated, petered out.

Now scientists from MIT and elsewhere have pinned down the timing of the lunar dynamo’s end, to around 1 billion years ago. The findings appeared in the journal Science Advances.

The new timing rules out some theories for what drove the lunar dynamo in its later stages and favors one particular mechanism: core crystallization. As the moon’s inner iron core crystallized, the liquid core’s electrically charged fluid was buoyantly stirred, producing the dynamo.

“The magnetic field is this nebulous thing that pervades space, like an invisible force field,” says Benjamin Weiss, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at MIT. “We’ve shown that the dynamo that produced the moon’s magnetic field died somewhere between 1.5 and 1 billion years ago, and seems to have been powered in an Earth-like way.”

Weiss’ co-authors on the paper are co-lead authors Saied Mighani and Huapei Wang, as well as Caue Borlina and Claire Nichols of MIT, along with David Shuster of the University of California at Berkeley.

Over the past few years, Weiss’ group and others have discovered signs of a strong magnetic field, of around 100 microteslas, in lunar rocks as old as 4 billion years. For comparison, Earth’s magnetic field today is around 50 microteslas.

In 2017, Weiss’s group studied a sample collected from NASA’s Apollo project, and found traces of a much weaker magnetic field, below 10 microteslas, in a moon rock they determined to be about 2.5 billion years old. Their thinking at the time was that perhaps two mechanisms for the lunar dynamo were at play: The first could have generated a much stronger, earlier magnetic field around 4 billion years ago, before being replaced by a second, more long-lived mechanism that sustained a much weaker field, through to at least 2.5 billion years ago.

“There are several ideas for what mechanisms powered the lunar dynamo, and the question is, how do you figure out which one did it?” Weiss says. “It turns out all these power sources have different lifetimes. So if you could figure out when the dynamo turned off, then you could distinguish between the mechanisms that have been proposed for the lunar dynamo. That was the purpose of this new paper.”

Most of the magnetic studies lunar samples from the Apollo missions have been from ancient rocks, dating to about 3 billion to 4 billion years old. These are rocks that originally spewed out as lava onto a very young lunar surface, and as they cooled, their microscopic grains aligned in the direction of the moon’s magnetic field. Much of the moon’s surface is covered in such rocks, which have remained unchanged since, preserving a record of the ancient magnetic field.

However, lunar rocks whose magnetic histories began less than 3 billion years ago have been much harder to find because most lunar volcanism had ceased by this time.

“The past 3 billion years of lunar history has been a mystery because there’s almost no rock record of it,” Weiss says.

Nevertheless, he and his colleagues identified two samples of lunar rock, collected by astronauts during the Apollo missions, that appear to have suffered a massive impact about 1 billion years ago and as a result were melted and welded back together in such a way that their ancient magnetic record was all but erased.

The team took the samples back to the lab and first analyzed the orientation of each rock’s electrons, which Weiss describes as “little compasses” that either align in the direction of an existing magnetic field or appear in random orientations in the absence of one. For both samples, the team observed the latter: random configurations of electrons, suggesting that the rocks formed in an extremely weak to essentially zero magnetic field, of no more than 0.1 microteslas.

The team then determined the age of both samples using a radiometric dating technique that Weiss and Shuster were able to adapt for this study.

The team put the samples through a battery of tests to see whether they were indeed good magnetic recorders. In other words, once they were reheated by some massive impact, could they have still been sensitive enough to record even a weak magnetic field on the moon, if it existed?

To answer this, the researchers placed both samples in an oven and blasted them with high temperatures to effectively erase their magnetic record, then exposed the rocks to an artificially generated magnetic field in the laboratory as they cooled.

The results confirmed that the two samples were indeed reliable magnetic recorders and that the field strength they initially measured, of 0.1 microteslas, accurately represented the maximum possible value of the moon’s extremely weak magnetic field 1 billion years ago. Weiss says a field of 0.1 microteslas is so low that it’s likely the lunar dynamo ended by this time.

The new findings line up with the predicted lifetime of core crystallization, a proposed mechanism for the lunar dynamo that could have generated a weak and long-lived magnetic field in the later part of the moon’s history. Weiss says that prior to core crystallization, a mechanism known as precession may have powered a much stronger though shorter-lived dynamo. Precession is a phenomenon by which the solid outer shell of a body such as the moon, in close proximity to a much larger body such as the Earth, wobbles in response to the Earth’s gravity. This wobbling stirs up the fluid in the core, the way swishing a cup of coffee stirs up the liquid inside.

Around 4 billion years ago, the infant moon was likely much closer to the Earth than it is today, and much more susceptible to the planet’s gravitational effects. As the moon moved slowly away from the Earth, the effect of precession decreased, weakening the dynamo and the magnetic field in turn. Weiss says it’s likely that around 2.5 billion years ago, core crystallization became the dominant mechanism by which the lunar dynamo continued, producing a weaker magnetic field that continued to dissipate as the moon’s core eventually fully crystallized.

The group is looking next to measure the direction of the moon’s ancient magnetic field in hopes of gleaning more information about the moon’s evolution.

This research was supported, in part, by NASA.

Source: mit.edu

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Space

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 87
Photo: (Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC))

To us, the Sun alone seems perfectly normal, but our solar system is actually a strange exception.

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one companion star. In a system 1,800 light-years away, astronomers have finally confirmed the existence of a gas giant planet orbiting stars in a triple star system.

Called KOI-5, the system is located in the constellation Cygnus, and the exoplanet was confirmed ten years after it was first detected by the Kepler space telescope.

In fact, the planet – now known as KOI-5Ab – was discovered by Kepler when it began operations back in 2009.

“KOI-5Ab was dropped because it was difficult and we had thousands of other candidates,” astronomer David Siardi of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said.

“There were lighter dives than the KOI-5Ab, and every day we learned something new from Kepler, so the KOI-5 was almost forgotten.”

Exoplanet hunters tend to avoid the complexities of multi-star systems; of the more than 4,300 exoplanets confirmed to date, less than 10 percent are multi-star systems, although such systems dominate the galaxy. As a result, little is known about the properties of exoplanets in multi-star systems compared to those orbiting a lone star.

After Kepler’s discovery, Chardy and other astronomers used ground-based telescopes such as the Palomar Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Gemini North Telescope to study the system. By 2014, they had identified two companion stars, KOI-5B and KOI-5C.

Scientists were able to establish that the planet KOI-5Ab, is a gas giant that is about half the mass of Saturn and 7 times the size of Earth, and is in a very close five-day orbit around KOI-5A. KOI-5A and KOI-5B, both of roughly the same mass as the Sun, form a relatively close binary system with an orbital period of about 30 years.

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 88

A third star, KOI-5C, orbits the binary system at a much greater distance, with a period of about 400 years – slightly longer than Pluto’s 248-year orbit.

“By studying this system in more detail, perhaps we can understand how planets are created in the universe.”

The discovery was announced at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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Space

Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 89
Photo: YouTube

Science can be compared to an artist painting what he has never seen, or to a writer describing other people’s travels: objects that he has never seen, places where he has never been. Sometimes such scientific “arts” turn out to be beautiful and interesting, but most of them will forever remain only theories, because they are beyond human capabilities.

In fact, science has the right only to speculate: how our universe appeared, how old it is, how many stars and other objects it contains.

Universe model

Why the universe does not fit into science 90

How many stars are there in the sky?

With an unarmed eye, a person can see about nine thousand stars in the sky in one cloudless and moonless night. And armed with binoculars or a telescope, much more – up to several million. However, this is much less than their true number in the universe. Indeed, only in our one galaxy (the Milky Way) there are about 400 billion stars. The exact amount, of course, is not known to science. And the visible universe contains about 170 billion galaxies.

It is worth clarifying that scientists can see the universe 46 billion light years deep in all directions. And the visible (observable) universe includes the space accessible to our eyes from the moment of the Big Explosion. In other words, only this (accessible to human perception) space science refers to our universe. Science does not consider everything that follows.

It is believed that there are supposedly a ceptillion (10 to 24 degrees) stars in our universe. These are theoretical calculations based on the approximate size and age of the universe. The origin of the universe is explained by the Big Bang theory. This is why the universe is constantly expanding and the more time passes, the more complex the universe and its components become.

Why the universe does not fit into science 91

It is not entirely correct to consider and perceive this scientific theory “head-on”. Scientists always claim that that explosion was not exactly an explosion, and the point that exploded was not the only one. After all, it was everywhere, because space did not exist then. And in general – everything happened quite differently from what is described in the Big Bang theory, but all other descriptions of the origin of the universe are even more incredible and inaccurate.

Separate but interconnected

That which is beyond the reach of human perception is usually discarded by science, or recognized as non-existent. Recognizing one thing, science does not want to recognize the existence of the other, although everything in our world is interconnected and is not able to exist separately – by itself.

Each object of the universe is a part of it much more than an independent, separate object.

Any person, like any material object of our world, consists of components: organs, cells, molecules, atoms. And each of its constituent parts can represent the whole world. Separate, and at the same time connected with all the others.

However, science, as a rule, perceives all the components of the universe – people, animals, plants, objects, the Earth, the Sun, other planets and stars – as separate subjects, thereby limiting itself.

Why the universe does not fit into science 92

Even what is considered the visible universe, one of the atoms of which could be called our solar system, is not subject to the boundaries of human perception. But perhaps the atom is an exaggeration, and our solar system is not even an atom, but one of its elements!

How, being so far from the truth, can one reason about something with the degree of probability with which science tries to reason about the origin of the universe?

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Space

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars 93

The red planet sways from side to side like a whirligig when it loses speed. The new study allowed scientists to notice that the poles of Mars deviate slightly from the axis of rotation of the planet. On average, they move 10 cm from the center with a period of 200 days.

Such changes are called the Chandler Oscillations  – after the American astronomer Seth Chandler, who discovered them in 1891. Previously, they were only seen on Earth. It is known that the displacement of the poles of rotation of our planet occurs with a period of 433 days, while the amplitude reaches 15 meters. There is no exact answer why this is happening. It is believed that the fluctuations are influenced by processes in the ocean and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chandler’s wobbles on Mars are equally perplexing. The authors of the study discovered them by comparing data from 18 years of studying the planet. The information was obtained thanks to three spacecraft that orbit the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. 

Since Mars has no oceans, it is likely that the Red Planet’s wobbly rotation is due to changes in atmospheric pressure. This is the first explanation that researchers have shared. In the future, there should be new details about the fluctuations that have so interested the scientific community.

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