Home Physics Physics – How Metallic Meteorites Magnetize

Physics – How Metallic Meteorites Magnetize

Physics – How Metallic Meteorites Magnetize


• Physics 16, 141

For a steel meteorite to retain a magnetic area, its father or mother asteroid might have a chilly rubble core to assist drive an inner dynamo.

The Alvord Meteorite was discovered on a farm in Lyon County, Iowa, in 1976. The attribute patterning within the uncovered slice resulted from the successive crystallization of its principal constituents, iron-nickel alloys.

About 8% of the Photo voltaic System’s asteroids are made principally of steel. Like rocky and icy asteroids, steel ones often endure harmful collisions that ship fragments—meteorites—hurtling towards Earth. A few of these meteorites have magnetic fields, a property whose origin planetary scientists have struggled to know. Now Zhongtian Zhang and David Bercovici of Yale College have proposed a believable rationalization for the sphere’s presence [1]. If their state of affairs finds observational help, it might present perception into how modestly sized objects in different photo voltaic techniques purchase magnetic fields.

The molten steel core of a planet or an asteroid can endure convection that generates a magnetic area by the dynamo impact. When the chilly silicate crust of such a planetary object drops under the Curie temperature (the temperature at which magnetism is locked in), the crust turns into completely magnetized. For the steel core to additionally turn out to be completely magnetized, it should freeze from its outdoors in such a approach that its outer portion can cool under the Curie temperature whereas the interior portion stays molten. The difficulty is that inward solidification expels sulfur and different mild parts into the liquid layer beneath it. This expulsion halts the convection wanted to generate the magnetic area.

That end result is circumvented in Zhang and Bercovici’s state of affairs. The formation of a steel object should contain a collision that strips the mantle of its precursor asteroid. That collision, the researchers assume, additionally smashes the core into smaller blobs that float in house. Many of the blobs promptly recombine beneath their very own gravity, restoring the liquid core. However the ones on the periphery of the asteroid cool and solidify to kind chunks of metallic rubble that stay adrift. Finally, the items of rubble succumb to the core’s gravity. They fall by the liquid core and sink to the middle, the place they settle to kind a strong rubble core.

This strong core is cooler than its surrounding liquid steel, inflicting the liquid to solidify with an outward propagating entrance. Once more, this state change expels mild minority constituents into the soften, however on this state of affairs the method generates an outward movement within the course of the asteroid’s floor. This movement carries a present that may drive a dynamo. Whereas all that occurs, the core’s outer floor can be cooling and solidifying; the core is reworking on two fronts, inward and outward. Crucially, now the floor cooling permits a few of the steel asteroid’s crust to drop under the Curie temperature earlier than the dynamo shuts down. The asteroid thus retains its magnetic area, which is then inherited by any meteorites created in subsequent collisions. Zhang and Bercovici again up their state of affairs with calculations.

Planetary scientist Francis Nimmo of the College of California, Santa Cruz, says the state of affairs is cheap, however it’s not the one path to magnetized asteroids and meteorites. “Chilly blobs sinking from the highest might drive convection as effectively,” he says. Proof for or in opposition to Zhang and Bercovici’s proposal might are available 2029, when NASA’s Psyche orbiter is scheduled to reach at 16 Psyche, the most important steel asteroid within the Photo voltaic System. If Zhang and Bercovici are appropriate, Psyche ought to have a sandwich construction with mild parts within the center and iron on the prime and backside.

–Charles Day

Charles Day is a Senior Editor for Physics Journal.


  1. Z. Zhang and D. Bercovici, “Era of a measurable magnetic area in a steel asteroid with a rubble-pile core,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 120 (2023).

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