Nitrogen, one of the most abundant elements on Earth, is mostly gas. However, deep inside the heart of the Earth, nitrogen is a liquid metal.
This new insight was developed by scientists studying the behavior of nitrogen when exposed to extreme conditions that mimic that of the Earth's deepest layers.
The researchers believe their latest study could help experts understand how the planet was formed from the elements in space billions of years ago. It could also provide new insight into the most basic structure of nitrogen, which makes up a whopping 78 percent of the Earth's atmosphere.
Nitrogen In Liquid Metal Form
An international team of researchers from the United Kingdom, United States, and China used advanced techniques to recreate the conditions of the Earth's core.
By applying dynamic laser heating, the researchers were able to heat up compressed nitrogen to temperatures more than 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit.
They also used the same high-energy beams to apply pressure more than a million times the atmospheric pressure on the surface of the Earth.
The researchers then used fast optical spectroscopy to observe the effects of subjecting the nitrogen to ultra-high pressures and temperatures. They found that, at such conditions, nitrogen in the center of the Earth exists in liquid metal form.
What This Could Mean For Planet Earth
The results of the new study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, could provide new insights for experts studying how planets form.
The researchers believe that it could also offer new explanations as to why the Earth is rich in nitrogen. Out of all the planets in the solar system, Earth is the only world teeming with nitrogen, where it exists mostly in gas form.
Stewart McWilliams of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy says nitrogen from the Earth's core could have risen up through the layers and turned into gas in the Earth's atmosphere.
"Earth's atmosphere is the only one of all the planets where nitrogen is the main ingredient — greater even than oxygen," McWilliams explains. "Our study shows this nitrogen could have emerged from deep inside the planet."
The Earth's Core
The Earth is made of three layers: the crust, the hot layer of magma called the mantle, and the core.
For a long while, scientists believed that the Earth's core was a solid ball of pure iron. However, later discoveries disproved this theory when scientists found that the core actually had two layers: a liquid outer core of iron and nickel with temperatures that reach up to 9,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and a solid inner core 750 miles thick with temperatures up to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The extremely high pressure in the inner core keeps it solid.
The inner core spins against the direction of the outer core, which scientists believe is what creates the Earth's magnetic field. This magnetic field is what protects the planet from the charged particles streaming from sun.
Photo: Kevin Gill | Flickr