An Iron Hell River Is Flowing Beneath The Earth

Image: De Agostini Picture Library via Getty
Image: De Agostini Picture Library via Getty

Beneath eighteen hundred miles of crust and mantle flows a molten iron hell river whose satanic secrets the European Space Agency has unleashed. Cool!

The ESA’s Swarm satellites orbit the Earth and measure its complex magnetic field, which is produced by layers of hot, moving metal. The satellites can pick apart contributions to the Earth’s magnetic field from each layer, including the core, mantle and crust. Their magnetic measurements show a 260 mile (420 kilometer)-wide (nice) piece of liquid core flowing beneath Siberia and Canada and pushing westward at 25 miles (40 km) per year, three times faster than the normal outer-core speeds. It’s also speeding up, because 2016 seems like the perfect year to discover that a molten hell-river is speeding up.

The hell-river and three satellites that detected it, via ESA
The hell-river and three satellites that detected it, via ESA

Researchers already knew that the core moved around, said lead study author Phil Livermore from the University of Leeds. However, the satellite results allowed them to look at this specific “jet stream” and how it changes over time through changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. They published their results in Nature Geoscience yesterday.

And what could cause a circle of fire akin to something Dante might write about in The Inferno? Andy Coghlan from New Scientist explains:

Next to the inner core, there are parallel cylinders of swirling molten iron in the outer core running from north to south. Where these swirling cylinders meet the solid core, and squash against it, they act like a pair of rollers, squeezing out additional molten iron sideways to create the jet stream.

No one is quite sure why the stream is speeding up, though if I were a betting man, I would probably throw my chips on “the coming of the dark lord.” But who knows.



Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds

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