A diverse team of researchers with members from Germany, France, Russia and the U.S. has subjected a sample of bridgmanite to conditions believed to be present at Earth's lower mantle and has found that it remained stable.
In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the team describes the testing they conducted, what they found and their theory regarding the dynamo effect that is, perhaps, the source of the planet's magnetic field
Studying the interior of planet Earth is difficult due to the huge scale involved—researchers cannot simply drill a hole all the way to the core to grab samples of material. For that reason, they have developed and used other tools such as seismic monitors to learn more.
Prior research has indicated that it is likely a mineral called bridgmanite. Other researchers have suggested that bridgmanite would not be stable under the very high temperature and pressure that would exist in the lower mantle. In this new effort, the researchers sought to settle this debate by bringing samples of bridgmanite into their lab and testing it.
To exert very high pressure on the sample similar to that believed to exist in the lower mantle, the researchers used laser-heated diamond anvil cells—creating a vice-like grip by squeezing a very small sample between two diamonds and focusing a laser on them.
The team ran several such experiments at different temperatures and pressures, maxing out at 23 gigapascals and 1,800 Kelvin. They then used X-rays to examine the samples to see how they held. The team reports that the samples held up very well and concluded that bridgmanite is stable under the conditions believed to exist at the lower mantle.
The team found that when samples contained different amounts of iron, there were differing levels of stability. Those differences, they suggest, could offer an explanation for seismic activity deep in the planet which could play a role in establishing the dynamo that is responsible for the planet's magnetic field.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances