Scientists better constrain time frame of Mars’ active dynamo

Using data from the MAVEN orbiter, scientists have now constrained the time frame when Mars’ dynamo was active and producing a global magnetic field, between 3.7 and 4.5 billion years ago.

Magnetism in certain rocks on Mars’ surface indicate that the Martian dynamo was active between 4.3 and 4.2 billion years ago, but the absence of magnetism over three large basins – Hellas, Argyre, and Isidis – that formed 3.9 billion years ago has led most scientists to believe the dynamo was inactive by that time.

Mittelholz’s team analyzed new data from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter and found clear evidence of a magnetic field coming from the Lucus Planum lava flow that formed about 3.7 billion years ago – much later than at other areas studied.

There is of course a lot of uncertainty here.

An experiment designed to mimic the dynamo at the Earth’s core is about to be turned on.

Mad scientists at their best! An experiment designed to mimic the dynamo at the Earth’s core is about to be turned on.

Ten years in the making, the US$2-million project is nearly ready for its inaugural run. Early next year, the sphere will begin whirling around while loaded with 13,000 kilograms of molten sodium heated to around 105 °C. Researchers hope that the churning, electrically conducting fluid will generate a self-sustaining electromagnetic field that can be poked, prodded and coaxed for clues about Earth’s dynamo, which is generated by the movement of liquid iron in the outer core. If it works, it will be the first time that an experiment that mirrors the configuration of Earth’s interior has managed to recreate such a phenomenon.

This is a really very cool experiment, as we really do not have a good understanding of how planetary magnetic fields are produced.