Earth’s inner core may have stopped spinning – and it’s potentially about to turn in the opposite direction, in the latest mind-blowing science news.
So what does this all mean?
Well, the Earth’s inner core is mainly composed of solid iron. It is about 70% as wide as the Moon and is separated from the rest of Earth by a liquid outer core.
This outer core has a magnetic field that affects the rotation of the inner layer, while the gravitational pull of the upper layer, known as the mantle, also affects the rotation of the core.
The new study was published Tuesday in the journal nature geology And conducted by scientists Yi Yang and Xiaodong Song of Peking University in China, it suggests that over the past decade, the inner core may have stopped turning.
Song and Yang told Vice that there are two dominant forces acting on the inner core – the electromagnetic force, and the other is gravity.
There is a “tug of war” element between these two forces.
“We see strong evidence that the inner core is rotating faster than the surface (but) it almost stopped around 2009,” Yang and Song said.
“Now it’s slowly moving in the opposite direction.”
Should we be worried?
It sounds like a big deal, but in reality, beneath the surface, the Earth is quite chaotic so it’s not as dangerous as it may seem.
The researchers came to this conclusion by looking at data from seismic waves emitted from earthquakes, which for their study have managed to travel through Earth’s inner core over the past 60 years.
And the fact, that the inner core changed direction regularly, first emerged in the 90s, although since then researchers have been divided about the exact speed of rotation.
Indeed, Yang and Song believe from their research that it “may have experienced a turning point in a multi-decade oscillation, with another turning point in the early 1970s”.
Scientists suggested that this “oscillation” cycle is likely to last seven decades, so the inner core spends 35 years in one direction and 35 years in the other.
Not everyone agrees with these findings, however.
Geophysicist John Wiedel of the University of Southern California was not involved in the research, but said it was the most reliable conclusion. the new study was “There is less activity in this recent 10-year period than in the past”.
Do these findings matter?
Well, it could help scientists understand how what’s going on deep within Earth’s surface affects life on the crust — where we live — such as how long each day is.
Song describes the inner core as “a planet within a planet, so how it moves is obviously very important” – although the core’s exact functioning is still unknown.
It is still unclear how fast the inner core rotates and whether it varies.
Vidale told the new York Times: “On the whole, it’s irrelevant to life on the surface, but we really don’t know what’s going on. It’s our responsibility to find out.”