Selwyn posted this Message: I was recently showing my grandchildren the effect on a compass needle by the magnetic field surrounding a magnet placed in opposition to the earth’s magnetic field – Magnetism 1.01 no? Their mother then asked me how is it that the earth has a magnetic field. I confidently answered that it was due to the central molten iron core of the earth acting as a magnet, and of course as we learned in Magnetism 1.1 68 years ago on of the ways of creating a magnet is a) by striking it several blows with a hammer while holding it in alignment with the earth’s N/S axis or b) heating it. In both cases this allows the atoms to move more freely and align themselves similarly with the axis. But that started me thinking: We know that heating ANYTHING applies energy to the atoms/molecules and this then causes them to display greater and more violent movement within the body of the material. If these molecules are so agitated, how can this identical phenomenon allow the molecule/atoms of the earth’s core to “settle down quietly” into a N/S configuration and remain so?
The answer is not so simple. Nobody has actually drilled into the centre of earth. What we know is by analysing the seismic waves and the shockwaves.
The Earth’s magnetic field is believed to be generated by electric currents in the conductive material of its core, created by convection currents due to heat escaping from the core. However the process is complex, and computer models that reproduce some of its features have only been developed in the last few decades. (Wikipedia)
The Earth and most of the planets in the Solar System, as well as the Sun and other stars, all generate magnetic fields through the motion of highly conductive fluids. The Earth’s field originates in its core. This is a region of iron alloys extending to about 3400 km (the radius of the Earth is 6370 km). It is divided into a solid inner core, with a radius of 1220 km, and a liquid outer core. The motion of the liquid in the outer core is driven by heat flow from the inner core, which is about 6,000 K (5,730 °C; 10,340 °F), to the core-mantle boundary, which is about 3,800 K (3,530 °C; 6,380 °F). The pattern of flow is organized by the rotation of the Earth and the presence of the solid inner core.
The mechanism by which the Earth generates a magnetic field is known as a dynamo.
The Dynamo Effect
The simple question “how does the Earth get its magnetic field?” does not have a simple answer. It does seem clear that the generation of the magnetic field is linked to the rotation of the earth, since Venus with a similar iron-core composition but a 243 Earth-day rotation period does not have a measurable magnetic field. It certainly seems plausible that it depends upon the rotation of the fluid metallic iron which makes up a large portion of the interior, and the rotating conductor model leads to the term “dynamo effect” or “geodynamo”, evoking the image of an electric generator.
Convection drives the outer-core fluid and it circulates relative to the earth. This means the electrically conducting material moves relative to the earth’s magnetic field. If it can obtain a charge by some interaction like friction between layers, an effective current loop could be produced. The magnetic field of a current loop could sustain the magnetic dipole type magnetic field of the earth. Large-scale computer models are approaching a realistic simulation of such a geodynamo.