Scientists Discover that Lunar Magnetic Field Petered Out

Sunday, January 5, 2020 - 11:28

MIT scientists have recently discovered that the lunar magnetic field that was generated by a powerful dynamo petered out.

According to the university’s official website, scientists have pinned down the timing of the lunar dynamo’s end, to around 1 billion years ago.

Based on the findings appear in the journal Science Advances, the new timing rules out some theories for what drove the lunar dynamo in its later stages and favors one particular mechanism: core crystallization. As the moon’s inner iron core crystallized, the liquid core’s electrically charged fluid was buoyantly stirred, producing the dynamo.

“The magnetic field is this nebulous thing that pervades space, like an invisible force field,” says Benjamin Weiss, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at MIT. “We’ve shown that the dynamo that produced the moon’s magnetic field died somewhere between 1.5 and 1 billion years ago, and seems to have been powered in an Earth-like way.”

Around 4 billion years ago, the infant moon was likely much closer to the Earth than it is today, and much more susceptible to the planet’s gravitational effects. As the moon moved slowly away from the Earth, the effect of precession decreased, weakening the dynamo and the magnetic field in turn.

Weiss says it’s likely that around 2.5 billion years ago, core crystallization became the dominant mechanism by which the lunar dynamo continued, producing a weaker magnetic field that continued to dissipate as the moon’s core eventually fully crystallized.

The group is looking next to measure the direction of the moon’s ancient magnetic field in hopes of gleaning more information about the moon’s evolution.

Weiss’ co-authors on the paper are co-lead authors Saied Mighani and Huapei Wang, as well as Caue Borlina and Claire Nichols of MIT, along with David Shuster of the University of California at Berkeley.

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