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Building a Miniature Magnetic Earth

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the don't-bring-your-laptop-near-there dept.

Earth 150

Doofus writes "There was an interesting story on NPR this morning about a geophysicist who has constructed a miniature earth to model the earth's dynamo effects. Dan Lathrop, a geophysicist at the University of Maryland, has constructed a 10-foot diameter stainless steel sphere. He intends to fill the sphere with molten sodium and spin the sphere to examine the propensity for the system to generate its own magnetic field. The article includes both video, in which Lathrop spins up the sphere, and audio, including the conversion of magnetic wave functions in prior experiments into audible sound: literally the music of the spheres."

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This isn't new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23626737)

I have seen this before in a Discovery Channel show.

Re:This isn't new (4, Funny)

The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626771)

WTF? Mythbusters created their own planet? Where the fuck do I sign up? I've been worshiping Kari for a long time now, but I didn't know her deity status had been made official!

Re:This isn't new (4, Funny)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627171)

> An interesting story on NPR this morning, about
> a geophysicist who has constructed a miniature earth

"Everything was modeled with exacting proportionality, including Pamela Andersons fake breasts, approximately 1cm in diameter on the beach-ball sized planet."

Re:This isn't new (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627827)

Perhaps you didn't realize you were actually watching PBS? Remember them, plain old antenna, no cable box, no monthly bill? (except for the pledge drives)

NOVA: Magnetic Storm

Besides, supercomputers could be used... (1)

rootpassbird (1276000) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628581)

to simulate the thing (how novel) and of course, it would run Linux!

stainless steel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23626749)

Miniature earth? Stainless steel? I know it's been a while since I took my geology courses, but the Earth isn't made of stainless steel IIRC. And the phrase "harmony of the spheres" has a much more poetic ring to it.

Re:stainless steel? (1)

aplusjimages (939458) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627251)

Watch the video. It says to make a planet you need "1 Scientist". That's all.

Re:stainless steel? (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627759)

I don't mind the stainless steel. I do love that they call a 10 foot diameter, 26 ton sphere "miniature" :)

Hollow earth! (4, Funny)

Ecuador (740021) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626767)

Wait, don't fill it up with anything. The model is accurate right now!

Re:Hollow earth! (4, Funny)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626869)

INFIDEL!! The Earth can't be both flat AND hollow! I'll kill you!!! I'll kill you all!!!

Just ask a Koreshan (2, Funny)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627061)

You fools, you are all wrong. The truth is that we live IN the hollow earth [lhup.edu] !

Re:Hollow earth! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627101)

INFIDEL!! The Earth can't be both flat AND hollow! I'll kill you!!! I'll kill you all!!!
Get over yourself and go finger a boy's asshole fo' Jeebus.

Swiss (3, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627487)

Swiss Cheese is both flat and hollow.

Re:Swiss (2, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627513)

Its only flat when you cut it, at which point the holes cease to be hollows and are merely holes.

at any rate, the inquisition has marked you... don't say later that you didn't expect it!

Re:Swiss (2, Funny)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627663)

IMO, this "hole" discussion is flat and hollow. :b

You've been taught EVIL!! (3, Funny)

nicodoggie (1228876) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627545)

It has been proven by the Wisest Human on Earth, Dr. Gene Ray that the world is a CUBE!! [timecube.com]

Education vaporized your brain by not being taught the four corners of CUBIC CREATION!!!

Re:You've been taught EVIL!! (1)

RockModeNick (617483) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628729)

I believe you may have melted my brain with that link.

Re:You've been taught EVIL!! (3, Funny)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 5 years ago | (#23629083)

<Font size=+10 color=ff00ff>Did you click on the "Next Page" link at the bottom of the page?</font> <font size=+40>The first page can't really be fathomed without reading the next three pages to form a full four-cornered web-timecube.<br>
<font color=ff0000><blink><marquee scrolldelay=100>Timecube</marquee><blink></font>

Re:Hollow earth! (1)

ninevoltz (910404) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628371)

It's hollow AND full of oil! At $4.00 a gallon, that figures out to $1,148,400,000,000,000,000,000,000. I drink your milkshake!

Re:Hollow earth! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23628441)

Karl, settle down. You can go hunting with McClellan.

Jiymm Waklre says... (-1, Troll)

realmolo (574068) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626789)

Dyanmite!

Re:Jiymm Waklre says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627313)

Don't drink and post.

Dream come true! (2, Funny)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626819)

We're going to go create our own dome, a dome within a dome. So don't come knockin on our door!

Im lost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23626833)

Hasn't he been doing this for awhile now? I am fairly certain I have already watched the documentaries of this machine in action.

From the article: (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626889)

Lathrop figures it can't be too hard to get a magnetic field â" after all, most planets in our solar system have one.

But while nature has an easy time making magnetic
So, yeah -- he's been trying (but failing) for a while.

hold on, fxiing that (2, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626961)

I meant to quote all of:

Lathrop figures it can't be too hard to get a magnetic field â" after all, most planets in our solar system have one.

But while nature has an easy time making magnetic fields, scientists do not. This is Lathrop's third attempt.
there we go. but the point still remains, yes - he's tried and failed before. Hopefully this time he'll manage it.

Re:hold on, fxiing that (1)

n2art2 (945661) | more than 5 years ago | (#23629265)

I think there is one thing he is not taking into consideration on. . . he is trapped withing the magnetic field of another planet. To really judge is this is plausible then he needs to send this ball of metal into space and get it to spin in space.

Then again. . . the earth is inside of the suns magnetic field, yet the earth has magnetic field of it's own. . . so actually the difference is that he is within the earth's atmostphere, and not in space. so yeah. . . shoot this thing into space and spin it.

Lost? (1)

pragma_x (644215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627085)

I saw the documentary too - they've been been mucking about with magnetic fields for a very long time; although their approach seems to be very accident prone. This should clarify things a bit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfoXOydWFMM [youtube.com]

Namaste, and good luck.

thats a lot of sodium... (5, Funny)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626881)

A 10-foot sphere filled with sodium? Damn... talk about playing with fire.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626987)

They actually did have a small file when some leaked out. The fire department was called, but they couldn't do anything.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (4, Informative)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627141)

You can't use water or CO2 (reacts with sodium) on a sodium fire, but if you're messing with large quanties of liquid sodium you'd think they'd have done their homework and know what to use (as well as to inform the fire dept that it's a sodium fire they're being called for).

http://www.ilpi.com/safety/extinguishers.html#Picking [ilpi.com]

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (2, Insightful)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627443)

Later on though, they say you should have a non-magnetic fire extinguisher if you're going to be using it in an area with magnetics.

I can only surmise that they need non-magnetic Class D fire extinguishing equipment. You don't know if their experiment will generate a magnetic field or not.

Actually, you can... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627693)

use water to put out a sodium fire. Water is pretty impressive at conducting heat away, even if it is reacting at the same time.

You just have to use a lake-full!

Re:Actually, you can... (2, Informative)

Megane (129182) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627971)

You forgot the link for lake-full. [theodoregray.com]

Re:Actually, you can... (1)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627975)

If you search for "sodium lake" on Google video you can see how sodium reacts with a lake!

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (4, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627757)

For many types of fires, including reactive metal fires, best procedure is to just let it burn if possible. In this case, I imagine you'd build the setup so that that *was* possible, and then focus your efforts on making sure you could get everyone out of the way efficiently. A huge pool of burning sodium is certainly dramatic, but if there's no person or property in danger then there's no necessarily anything wrong with it. The caustic lye dust should fall out of the air rapidly; don't stand down wind.

When it comes to exotic fires, there are techniques to fight them -- but by far the preferred one is to not fight it at all. Besides, suppose you did put it out -- you now have a damaged sphere of molten sodium that already caught fire once. Are you planning to approach it? I'd rather stand back and wait for it to go out if at all possible.

I'm sure they've informed the fire department, and I'm sure the fire department intends to get involved only if there's an immediate danger to life, or a risk of the fire spreading -- in which case they'll likely try to contain it without putting it out.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

wwwgregcom (313240) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628415)

While I'm sure they have informed the fire department, as a resident of College Park, I can assure you that the fire department is your typical two engine operation. I seriously doubt they have the capacity to handle a ten foot sphere of sodium.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628499)

A tanker of liquid nitrogen would do a pretty good job. I don't think Sodium reacts with it and it would cool it down pretty quickly. Of course liquid Helium would do an even better job but would be very hard to obtain.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (5, Funny)

Firehed (942385) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627821)

if you're messing with large quanties of liquid sodium you'd think they'd have done their homework and know what to use

A new pair of running shoes?

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (2, Funny)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628721)

"A new pair of running shoes?"

More likely a spare pair of underwear.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23628189)

But they closed the building and waited overnight for the fire to go out. This is something. I was around during the fire.

And I still remember at the time I took the safety training, the safety guy told me, "I know something will happen someday, several hundred pound of liquid sodium rotating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Jesus."

Good for them (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 5 years ago | (#23629525)

They actually did have a small file when some leaked out.
So I guess they wrote up the report in plaintext...must be nice to have no business-types that need to be impressed with flashy formatting. Plus, accident reports that look like they've been done with a typewriter are cool :)

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1, Informative)

Jay Maynard (54798) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626993)

No kidding. A 10-foot diameter sphere has a volume of 14,826,654 cc. I couldn't find a figure for density of molten sodium, but even if it is (as is likely) less dense than the solid form's 0.97 grams per cc, that's still upwards of 10,000 metric tonnes of molten sodium.

Where is this? I'm staying the hell out of that city...

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627151)

Check your math.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627165)

No problem, his next research program can be into liquid metal fast breeder reactors [wikipedia.org] .

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (4, Interesting)

hkfczrqj (671146) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627245)

Just FYI, one of the technicians working in this experiment used to work in a nuclear submarine, I presume taking care of the cooling of a reactor. I don't know what kind of reactors they use in the Navy, but Dr. Lathrop told me that this guy knows how to handle liquid sodium. (Disclaimer: I'm in a collaboration with Lathrop's lab, though in another experiment.)

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (2, Interesting)

Otter (3800) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627383)

Just FYI, one of the technicians working in this experiment used to work in a nuclear submarine, I presume taking care of the cooling of a reactor. I don't know what kind of reactors they use in the Navy, but Dr. Lathrop told me that this guy knows how to handle liquid sodium.

The only US sub with such a reactor was the Seawolf in the 1950s. If the tech is Russian -- Alfa's have lead-cooled reactors, not sodium-cooled, IIRC.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (4, Informative)

treeves (963993) | more than 5 years ago | (#23629647)

US Navy uses all Pressurized (light) Water Reactors.
I was on a boat with an S5W reactor (S for submarine, W for Westinghouse). I did my prototype training (the hands on training that nucs do before going out to the fleet) in upstate NY at the D1G reactor (G for General Electric, D for destroyer). Also at that facility were a couple of interesting reactor designs, one of which used liquid sodium as coolant (it was no longer in operation by the time I got there in 1987) and another, called MARF, that used gadolinium-lined, well I don't know what to call them, but they were like toilets, and they were neutron moderators, so when you wanted to SCRAM the reactor you dumped the water out of them, like flushing a toilet, and reactivity immediately dropped to subcritical.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (4, Funny)

hkfczrqj (671146) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627183)

Dan Lathrop works at the University of Maryland... probably you already have other reasons to stay out of thar region of the US.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (5, Informative)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627303)

googling "density liquid sodium" would have given you 927 kg/m^3 as the correct number
doing your unit conversions correctly would have given you 13.77 tons
and I get scared with a kilo in my reactions - I'm a wimp

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

Jay Maynard (54798) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627511)

Hm. Somehow, I couldn't turn up that number.

Yeah, my conversion from grams to tonnes was off, too...but even so, 13.77 tonnes of liquid sodium is something I want to be nowhere close to.

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627813)

Come on, you know you want to live dangerously! 13 tons of sodium is just freaking cool.

check your math - it's only 14.4 tonnes (2, Insightful)

1800maxim (702377) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627399)

M=D x V
M=0.97g/cc * 14,826,654cc = 14,381,854.38g = 14,381.85438kg ~ 14.4 tonnes

Re:thats a lot of sodium... (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627451)

10,000 metric tonnes? What?

If it were filled with water, it would about 6,500 lbs. I think your math is a *little* off.

Re:thats a lot of sodium...but not quite that much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627547)

I think you may have a dodgy calculator - using your figures, I get:
10 foot dia = 1.52m radius
vol = (4/3)*PI*R^3 = 14.8 m^3 = 1.48 * 10^7 cc

Comes to just over 14 metric tonnes of molten sodium, which is frankly disappointing: I put more than that in a good hot curry.

What could possibly go wrong? (5, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627373)

Here [theodoregray.com] are some interesting (true) stories on what happens when sodium hits water. But those are about small blocks, one kilo or so, and solid at ambient temperature.


This guy now seems to bring this "sodium party" thing to a new, unprecedented level...

He made one? (1)

Centurix (249778) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626901)

Couldn't he have gone to the local fairground and used one of those cyclotron things where you get stuck to the side of a giant drum? Take the people out, fill it with sodium. Or one of those candy sugar spinny things that makes clouds on a stick? They're awesome. Science is awesome and has lots of sugar. Wait, salt is sodium chloride, he could make candy floss out of salt? What has science done!

Re:He made one? (2, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23629105)

When you heard them say "coffee", you missed them saying "less".

Been Done (4, Informative)

Stranger4U (153613) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626903)

A group at New Mexico Tech [nmt.edu] was working on a similar experiment using a cylindrical chamber filled with liquid sodium and a way to introduce turbulence to create magnetic fields. This was started over ten years ago. Their group page [nmt.edu] is a bit out of date, though.

Re:Been Done (1)

timster (32400) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627179)

Isn't this experiment an expansion and continuation of that sort of research? Not really so much something that's "Been Done"? Are you saying that the previous work has already answered all these questions?

The story mentions that this guy has worked with smaller simulations before, so it's not as if we're being told that this is some brilliant new idea. It's just sort of cool that somebody built such a large sphere for this purpose.

On top of things... (4, Funny)

Otter (3800) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626905)

Sodium becomes liquid at stovetop temperatures and conducts electricity well, but it's flammable. A sodium fire can't just be put out with water. Water can actually make things worse -- Lathrop's team has disabled the sprinkler system.

My first thought upon reading the summary here was "Man, I really hope they disabled the sprinkler system...

Re:On top of things... (2, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627023)

Class D fires are not fun.

Re:On top of things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627277)

yeah, and good luck getting the fire department in there to rescue someone if there is a fire.

It's not gunna happen.

Re:On top of things... (1)

Bruiser80 (1179083) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627493)

Shouldn't they just have the local airport's foam trucks on call?

Class D fires (5, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627535)

Class D fires are not fun.

You're not doing them right, then.

Re:On top of things... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627255)

My first thought upon reading the summary here was "Man, I really hope they disabled the sprinkler system...

Yeah, no kidding. That little caveat there about water making things worse is kinda an understatement too. More like "Water can actually make things kaboom". Or, at least if you're watching from a safe distance, it would also be accurate to say "Water can actually make things awesome."

Re:On top of things... (1)

pragma_x (644215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628515)

Water can actually make things awesome.
Being someone who lives just over the county line from College Park (I can hear the Terps play half the time and see the light pollution from the stadium), I couldn't agree more.

is sphere music (1)

Aggrav8d (683620) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626933)

...the start of a howie mandel joke?

Earth as a model? (0)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626955)

Well, sass that hoopy. Bypass construction notwithstanding, should be an interesting project. Frood really seems to know where his towel is at.

(Too easy)

Re:Earth as a model? (1)

marquis111 (94760) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627195)

His shirt is a nice superintelligent shade of blue, too.

Re:Earth as a model? (2, Funny)

BotnetZombie (1174935) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627997)

I'm mostly worried about the fjords now. Much harder on a tiny sphere.

nooo (-1, Flamebait)

nawcom (941663) | more than 5 years ago | (#23626977)

No one can gods work!!!!! Sinners damn yeeeeeee!!

I listened to some of the audio clip, and in all seriousness, the only part of NPR that I hate is that it's people always have this monotone voice and dying personality. I feel like I'm gonna go watch paint dry while I wait for someone to say something exciting or have an orgasm or get upset. Something.

It reminds me of when you end up sleeping with someone who has a lame personality, and at the end they say, EVERY FUCKING TIME, "Aww that was nice," when they cum, or every evening when you have dinner with them they ALWAYS say, "Ah. The milk tastes good to me tonight." I want to stab them in the face with a spiked brass knuckle.

Re:nooo (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627275)

shouldn't you be commenting on youtube videos or something?

Re:nooo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627413)

It sounds like you're dating the wrong guys. Maybe you need to raise your standards.

any chance (4, Interesting)

Trailer Trash (60756) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627017)

we can throw it in a lake when he's finished? That's a *lot* of sodium.

restoring a real time earth, magnets included (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627043)

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http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece

No!!!!! (1)

SPSTech (889805) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627395)

What the heck is wrong with them, didn't they ever see "The Core"?????

ARGH!!! They're going to screw up the magnetic fields and we're all going to d... er... never mind.

mOod do3n (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23627465)

of the above A GAY NIIGER dying. Everyone the system clean

it has to be said (1)

Raleel (30913) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627515)

He's got Balls of Steel!

Re:it has to be said (2, Funny)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627679)

Steel, yes, but only one really big one. :(

Came through the Firehose, no less... (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627599)

I gotta wonder if they thought about installing and FM-20 or other extinguisher system in the room, and disabled the sprinklers. If they didn't, someone let me know what building it's in so I can stay away. Far away.

Nevermind (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627623)

Oh, never mind - should have RTFA.

solid core? (2, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627611)

Don't you need the solid iron core, so that you have the 2 iron pieces separated by the liquid (sodium) mantle ?

Re:solid core? (4, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#23629287)

Don't you need the solid iron core, so that you have the 2 iron pieces separated by the liquid (sodium) mantle ?

Not to study the gross effects of turbulent conductive metal. Simple experiments first, complex experiments later.

More Accurately... (1)

FurtiveGlancer (1274746) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627625)

It would be music of the sphere. Singular. Sounds much less enchanting for some reason. Must be an innate preference for plurality.

Liquid Sodium is still neutral in charge. (2, Interesting)

Jerry (6400) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627787)

So, how is spinning a neutral liquid metal going to create an electric field?

Are they hoping that rotating Sodium will be like moving a solid piece of Iron through the magnetic field of the earth, inducing current in the Sodium, which then creates a secondary EMF, which then creates a secondary magnetic field...?

Without Earth's magnetic field are they lifting themselves by their own bootstraps?

Re:Liquid Sodium is still neutral in charge. (2, Insightful)

pclminion (145572) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627883)

Are they hoping that rotating Sodium will be like moving a solid piece of Iron through the magnetic field of the earth, inducing current in the Sodium, which then creates a secondary EMF, which then creates a secondary magnetic field...? Without Earth's magnetic field are they lifting themselves by their own bootstraps?

I don't see why it's a problem. The same arguments apply to Earth itself. Could the Earth's magnetic dynamo have formed without the influence of the sun's magnetic field? It's a legitimate part of the question. Also, the universe is hardly empty of magnetic fields. It's not really a stretch to suppose that some "seeding" field was already present.

Why sodium? (3, Interesting)

Fallen Andy (795676) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627805)

Anyone out there can explain to me why he wouldn't use e.g. Gallium ? Sodium sure isn't the safest stuff to have around molten.

Andy

Re:Why sodium? (3, Informative)

njh (24312) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628567)

At a guess, price. Metallic sodium cost about $1/kg I think, Gallium costs perhaps $2000/kg.

Mercury is probably too heavy, Tin is an option, though it needs to be hotter. Finally, metals are different, perhaps sodium is the most like molten iron/nickle in electronic structure or something.

Re:Why sodium? (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628763)

"Mercury is probably too heavy"

More likely too toxic; a liquid sodium spill would be bad, but a spill of that much mercury would have the pantywaists that run this state evacuating the whole county.

Re:Why sodium? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628769)

As you say, I'm sure price is the primary reason. But mercury? You have to be kidding. The toxicity and environmental issues make the sodium look easy to handle. It also costs ~10x the price of sodium per kg, and is 14 times as dense -- so it's 140x as expensive if they care about volume rather than mass (I'm guessing they do, but I don't know). And yes, I know metallic mercury is the least problematic form -- but that doesn't make it harmless, especially in the eyes of safety inspectors and insurance agents. And rightly so; the issues of long-term contamination from a spill on that scale are huge.

Would be interesting to see. (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627843)

Sounds like an interesting experiment. However, I have to wonder how accurately it can possibly represent the mechanisms in Earth's core. Just a few things off the top of my head:

  • Density of sodium is nothing like that of iron
  • Conductivity of sodium is different
  • Viscosity of sodium is different
  • Various constants of electromagnetic self-interaction are different for sodium vs. iron
  • The pressure at Earth's core is much larger than anything achievable in this experiment
  • The scale isn't even close

I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of magnetic dynamo CAN be created on this small scale, but I'd hesitate to directly apply anything learned here to the physics at Earth's core. Still, worth doing. Just be careful with the sodium. Why not use mercury? At least you could do it at room temperature.

They're testing it now with water... (4, Funny)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 5 years ago | (#23627957)

I hope they remember to dry it out before they put in the sodium.

Serving a king? (1)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628233)

A miniature ball with its own force of gravity. Who else thought this is a Katamari Damacy in the making?!

effects of gravity from other bodies? (1)

Cabriel (803429) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628285)

I noticed the article mentioned the Earth's internal turbulence. Would the way the Sun's and Moon's gravitational pull deform the earth's geometry be a partial cause of turbulence within the earth's molten core?

If no, why not?

If yes, is this experiment accounting for something like that?

Would something like this even have an effect on the magnetic field?

uncertainty of computer simulations (4, Informative)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628295)

Several groups such as Glatzmeir at Harvard have tried computer simulations. Since it is a non-linear, turbelent phenomena they have to make a very small grid with a large number of grid cells. It took 80 days of NSF supercomputer time in the mid-1990s.

Plus there are some uncertainties:
(1) The equations of state at the high pressures and temperatures inside the earth arent well known. People have squished minerals in diamond presses or in super-guns to measure the equations of state. However a Berkeley group claims the inner-most core is twice as hot as others claim. A factor of two uncertainty is not good.
(2) The coupling of elastic equations with magnetic equations is not well thought out either. People have done each independently fairly comprehensively, but not both together.

The Harvard guy got some interesting results:
(1) There is an inter-play between the solid inner iron core and liquid iron outer core. The solid holds magnetisation better than the liquid. So he sees over a hundred thousand year simulation a "flickering" as the field looks like it might reverse then really doesnt. Then eventually it reverses about every 40,000 years. This is a little faster than observed in rocks. Currently the earth's magnetic field is abotu 10% weaker than meaured right around 1800. People think is this more likely a "flicker" than an impending reversal, but who knows?
(2) The model predicted convection spins the whole core once time extra about every 400 years. Convection is driven by both thermal and magnetic force. Seismologists have looked for this "extra core day" and think they have found it. There has been comprehensive global seismic data for about 45 years, or about a tenth of a rotation. Seismologists have see inner core velocity anomalies moving about this rate. You know a theory is really fabulous when it predicts something completely unexpected such as extra core days, and then scientists verify it.

Chia Earth! (1)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628713)

n/t

Richter 10 (1)

halfelven (207781) | more than 5 years ago | (#23628747)

I was reminded of the novel "Richter 10" by A. C. Clarke and Mike McQuay, where they use a somewhat similar (albeit much more complex) device to predict earthquakes.
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