Science & Tech: Silicon identified as ‘missing element’ in Earth’s core

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  • Silicon likely makes up a significant proportion of the Earth’s core after iron and nickel, say scientists who claim to have identified the ‘missing element’ in the deep interiors of our planet that has eluded us for decades.
  • The discovery could help us to better understand how our world formed, researchers said.
  • For the study, researchers from Tohoku University in Japan recreated the high temperatures and pressures found in the deep interior of the Earth.
  • The Earth consists of four general sections, the outermost being the crust (that’s where we live). Below that is the mantle, which makes up the bulk of Earth’s volume.
  • The core is around 2,200 miles in diameter, but it is usually separated into the outer and inner core. It’s the inner core is 760 miles in diameter, and it is this region that is of particular interest to scientists.
  • While it’s incredibly hot at more than 5,400 degrees Celsius, the pressure from all the layers pushing down on it make it a solid ball.
  • The outer core is a highly viscous fluid. We know the inner core is mostly composed of nickel and iron in a 10-85% split. It’s that missing 5% that is the topic of research in the study from Tohoku University.
  • Since we cannot examine the core of the Earth directly, the best way to study it is to monitor how seismic waves pass through this region. In order to assess different elements as components of the core, the Tohoku University team basically created a scale model of it in the laboratory.
  • They used samples of nickel and iron and mixed in silicon.
  • The resulting alloy was subjected to high temperature and pressure like it would experience in the inner core. The behavior of this alloy was a good match for the seismic data acquired from observing the Earth’s core.
  • It is mainly composed of iron, which makes up about 85 per cent of its weight and nickel, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the core.
  • To study the unaccounted five per cent of the core, researchers created alloys of iron and nickel and mixed them with silicon, ‘BBC News’ reported. They then subjected them to the immense pressures and temperatures that exist in the inner core.
  • They discovered that this mixture matched what was seen in the Earth’s interior with seismic data.
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