Feeds

Super-Earths' magnetic FORCE FIELDS could harbour ALIEN LIFE

Little green men/microbes may lurk safe from cosmic rays

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A geo-boffinry study has found that super-Earths could have oceans of liquid metal and magnetic shields that protect life on their surfaces.

Artist's impression of the planetary system around HD10180

The heat and pressure inside planets bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune alters the magnesium oxide in their rocky mantles, according to new scientific calculations, transforming it into liquid metal.

Magnesium oxide was blasted by investigating boffins with high-powered lasers to simulate the conditions on planets three to ten times as big as our own. In those conditions, with pressure three to 14 million times atmospheric pressure and temperatures of up to 90,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the mineral transformed into a solid with a new crystal structure and then into a liquid metal.

As it melts, the magnesium oxide changes from an electrically insulating material in which electrons don't flow easily to a metal similar to iron that allows electrons to pass easily through the material.

"It is often thought that a planetary magnetic field protects life on a planet's surface from harmful space radiation, like cosmic rays," geophysicist Stewart McWilliams, with the Carnegie Institution and Howard University, told Discovery News.

"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."

Planetary scientist David Stevenson of Caltech said the field "certainly affects the way life evolves".

"I think it is an open question as to whether its absence inhibits the development of life," he added.

As well as raising possibilities of life-protecting magnetic shields, the study complicates existing models of how planets form and evolve.

"Melting in planets is very important. In planets like the Earth, melting leads to many features of the world around us - volcanoes, and the Earth's magnetic field, for example.

"In the early history of planets like Earth, it is possible the entire planet was liquefied, forming a deep ocean of magma on the surface. Even today, some super-Earth planets may have these magma oceans," McWilliams said.

On some of the planets however, the magma is replaced by liquid metal, made up of the magnesium oxide as well as magnesium silicate and quartz.

"To really understand a planet we need to model the whole thing," McWilliams said. "This can be done with advanced computer codes, for example, that describe the formation of a planet's magnetic field. I think the next step is to see if models can confirm our findings."

The study was published in Science. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.