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Why the moon’s early magnetic field might be responsible for life on earth

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Summary (IA Generated)

These fields are generated thousands of kilometers below the planet’s surface in its liquid core and extend far into space – shielding the atmosphere from harmful solar radiation.

Without a strong magnetic field, a planet struggles to hang on to a breathable atmosphere – which is bad news for life as we know it.

A new study, published in Science Advances, suggests that the Moon’s now extinct magnetic field may have helped protect our planet’s atmosphere as life was forming around 4 billion years ago.

Today, Earth has a strong global magnetic field that protects the atmosphere and low-orbiting satellites from harsh solar radiation.

In contrast, the Moon does not possess either a breathable atmosphere or a global magnetic field.

Global magnetic fields are generated by the motion of molten iron in the cores of planets and moons.

Without a global magnetic field, the charged particles of the solar wind (radiation from the Sun) passing close to a planet generate electric fields that can accelerate charged atoms, known as ions, out of the atmosphere.

The new research investigates how the Earth’s and Moon’s early fields may have interacted.

Our Moon, four billion years ago generated its own magnetic field.

Such studies have, however, unveiled that Earth has generated a magnetic field for at least the last 3.

The new paper, which modeled the interaction of two magnetic fields with north poles either aligned or the opposite, shows that the interaction extends the region of near-Earth space between our planet and the Sun that is shielded from the solar wind.

The new study is an interesting first step towards understanding how important such effects would be when averaged over a lunar orbit or the hundreds of millions of years that are important for assessing planetary habitability.

But to know for sure we need further modelling and more measurements of the strengths of the Earth and Moon’s early magnetic fields.

What’s more, a strong magnetic field does not guarantee the continued habitability of a planet’s atmosphere – its surface and deep interior environments matter too, as do influences from space.

For example, the brightness and activity of the Sun has evolved over billions of years and so has the ability of the solar wind to strip atmospheres.


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