By: April Carson
A new study reports that a rare gas that dates back to the Big Bang is seeping out of the Earth's core, providing fresh understanding into how our world was created billions of years ago.
The study of the Earth's core is ongoing, and researchers continue to find new and fascinating facts about this hidden region. As we learn more, we may be able to unlock even more secrets about our planet's history.
Helium-3, an isotope of helium, is leaving Earth's interior at a rate of about four pounds per year, but even such a modest quantity can aid in the solving of major environmental questions. It could help explain how, and if, Earth emerged from within the solar nebula, which was a huge cloud of dust and gas that existed 4.6 billion years ago and eventually spawned the Sun. It has been hidden away since our planet's inception and may provide insights into whether, as well as how, our world came into being.
To better comprehend the source and impact of Earth's helium-3, Peter Olson and Zachary Sharp, a geophysicist and isotope geochemist at the University of New Mexico, used computer models to track the isotope's flow throughout history. According to a study published on Monday in Geochemistry, Geophysics, and Geosystems, helium-3 and possibly other volatile materials are wafting out of the core, strengthening the case that Earth formed within a thriving solar nebula rather than on its outskirts or during a declining phase as proposed by some theories.
Scientists have known for decades that helium-3 is leaking from our planet's depths, mostly via the mid-ocean ridge system, which is a huge chain of undersea volcanoes. However, it has remained unclear whether the isotope was being produced in the Earth's mantle or core, which is almost 2,000 miles deep underground.
“There have been a lot of prior studies suggesting He-3 in the core, and even a few that discuss how helium might leak out of the core,” Olson added. “What we did (that is novel) was to quantify everything statistically.”
The researchers analyzed data from seismometers around the world, measuring the time it took for seismic waves generated by earthquakes to travel through the Earth's interior. By looking at how these waves were affected by different temperatures and compositions, they were able to create a 3D model of the planet's innards.
Olson and Sharp studied important points in Earth's history that aided the planet's helium-3 supply. The actual formation and accretion of our world out of gas, dust, and rock were one such point. Another was the formation of the Moon, which is thought to be a piece of Earth that was blasted into space following a cataclysmic collision between our infant planet and another proto-world approximately 4.5 billion years ago, releasing a huge quantity of helium-3, among other things.
According to their research, based on the current leaking of the isotope, these ancient events, as well as Earth's subsequent development, there is up to a petagram (about 100 million tons) of helium-3 still in the center. That is a significant number that lends significant weight to the hypothesis that Earth was born inside a flourishing solar nebula, enabling it to gain helium-3 and other elements.
“When did the Earth form?” asked Olson. “According to all of the astronomical evidence, the solar nebula only lasted a few million years. So if the Earth developed significantly in size (a reasonable amount) within the solar nebula, it had to form early and develop quickly.”
“The most frequently invoked ideas, on the other hand, propose that the Earth accrued over a longer duration of time, ranging from 20 to 100 million years. ,” he continued.
The new research indicates that the core is a significant source of helium-3, with implications for future studies attempting to reconstruct our planet's formation.
“This is a new way to think about the Earth's formation, and it provides a fresh perspective on how the solar nebula may have influenced the timing of terrestrial planet formation in our Solar System,” said Olson.
The findings also suggest that the early Earth was much more heterogeneous in composition than previously thought, which could have implications for the formation of life on our planet.
“This study provides new evidence that the deep Earth is not as well-mixed as we thought, and that there may be significant variation in composition at different depths,” said Olson.
Olson and Sharp warn that the model's prediction may err on the side of overshooting the amount of helium-3 present in the core, but they add that given "the sum of these uncertainties does not fundamentally alter the relative amounts of helium retained by the mantle and core," their primary result—that the core is a major source of primordial helium—will still hold.
Other aspects, too, may be emerging from the planet's deepest regions, full of hints about its origins. In contrast to hydrogen on Earth with a significantly higher deuterium content, light hydrogen is a hydrogen isotope that matches the deuterium composition of the solar nebula and is unique to it.
“We believe that nebular hydrogen leaking from the core could be effectively studied,” Olson concluded. “If geochemists can discover evidence for ‘light hydrogen' in volcanic rocks from active volcanoes such as Iceland or Hawaii, that would practically be a smoking gun since these hotspots bring material up from great depths and receive a lot of their heat from the core-mantle boundary region.”
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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