Spaghetti planet (Image: N. Schaeffer/ISTERRE

The Earth is a giant magnet, with a north and a south pole just like any magnet you’ve ever played with. But the Earth’s magnetic field plays a vital role: It helps to prevent powerful solar particles from destroying us.

Scientists think the magnetic field comes from something called the dynamo, liquid metal moving throughout the planet’s outer core combined with the planet’s rotation. This could generate an electric field which, according to physics, should create the magnetic field, too. To demonstrate that, scientists at L’Institut des sciences de la Terre in France have created a hypnotic video of the Earth’s outer core, sliced in half along the equator, modeling the temperature patches swirling deep inside our planet.

These simulations show the swirling metal flows created by patches of the molten, iron-nickel mixture at different temperatures. The simulation also showed swirling vortices near the poles and demonstrated that the magnetic field generated by this motion isn’t always uniform. The team’s work has been accepted for publication in the Geophysical Journal International.

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This newest attempt at a realistic simulation of the dynamo relies on numerical approximations and supercomputer calculations, according to a press release from the French National Center for Scientific Research. That, of course, means that the scientists haven’t measured precisely what’s happening. But it can definitely help scientists better understand the behavior of our planet’s magnetic field, as well as for purposes where GPS doesn’t work, like drilling underground.

Hot dang. I could probably watch this for hours.

[GJI via CNRS]