The Earth’s Core Has Come to a Halt and Is Now Moving in the Other Direction

Andrei Tapalaga
The Earth's core has a similar temperature to the surface of the SunPhoto byHistory of Yesterday

Scientists say the Earth's inner core has ceased rotating and is currently spinning backward. This stop and change in direction lasts 60 to 70 years and may explain a variety of natural occurrences, according to research published in Nature Geoscience on Monday.

For those of us who are blissfully oblivious of our planet's massive metal ball at its heart, the inner core is 75% the size of the moon and about as hot as the sun's surface.

Really, it is “a planet within a planet,” said Xiaodong Song, a seismologist at China’s Peking University, and one of the study’s authors, “so how it moves is obviously very important.”

But don't worry, this spin cycle adjustment will have no catastrophic consequences: Song and his colleague Yi Yang are only attempting to understand the inner workings of the Earth and how they affect the rest of the planet.

The inner core, which lies 3,000 miles beneath our feet and is surrounded by a liquid outer core, remains mostly unknown since it cannot be directly sampled. This means that experts like Song and Yang study seismic waves from earthquakes and nuclear weapon test to learn more about their properties.

So far, we know that the ball, which is mostly formed of iron and nickel, is 1,520 miles long and has a temperature of roughly 5,200 degrees Celsius ( 9,392F).

And, while scientists know that the outer liquid core allows it to spin at different speeds and directions than the rest of the Earth, they are still trying to figure out how quickly it rotates and whether this fluctuates over time.

However, progress is being made in this area, as revealed by Yang and Song's new study, which contains "surprising observations that indicate the inner core has nearly ceased its rotation in the last decade."

The core "may be experiencing a turning-back in a multidecadal oscillation, with another turning point in the early 1970s," they discovered.

If this 70-year cycle exists, it is expected to have relatively minimal impacts on the planet's surface, such as generating minor shifts in the Earth's magnetic field or changing the duration of a day by a fraction of a millisecond.

Despite their efforts, Song and Yang's theory is simply one of several explaining the irregular way waves reach the Earth's core, and the riddle may never be solved.

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