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What do scientists say about Earth's core is in a 'Quite abnormal' superionic state?

Researchers in China have discovered that the inner core of the Earth is neither solid or liquid - a new state entirely.

A satellite seen from earth.
Mariana SuarezAFP

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have recently published findings in the journal Nature last week, revealing new information about how the inside of our planet is formed.

It used to be considered that the inner core of the Earth was mostly made of solid iron, giving the planet it's magnetic field.

However, the research now points to a totally different makeup of the inner core.

'It is quite abnormal,' said Yu He, lead author of the study, 'Our result shows that [in] the Earth's inner core some light elements, such as carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, behave like liquids and diffuse freely in the lattice of solid iron. This suggests that the inner core is not a normal solid but a composition of solid iron sublattice and liquid-like light elements.'

How was this discovered?

The research was undertaken using earthquake readings. These suggested to suggest that the inner core was likely composed of elements in different states including 'mushy"' material, not simply solid iron.

It suggests that the liquid-like elements prevent as strong seismic currents from traveling through, making it clear that there are non-solid aspects of the core.

However, the study can't prove why this 'superionic' state exists, but this data will likely lead to further research. A big question that will be answered is how these findings are important for new ideas on how the Earth's magnetic field is produced and works. One idea is that there is a slow wave from the inner to outer core, potentially blurring the boundaries between the two.

The core structure may change with the geomagnetic field. We have started related simulations. Hopefully, we can show our results in a short future.

Yu He, lead author