The huge amorphous masses inside the Earth that keep scientists on the edge of the abyss

It is located in a strange corner of our solar system Two amorphous space masses. They are the size of the continentsIt is believed that they spend their time waiting for sustenance to fall on them, and then simply suck it up. Their natural habitat is more exotic than their diet. It can be described as “rocky”: around it there are strange minerals of unknown colors and shapes. Otherwise, it is rather barren, except for the sparkling sea in the distance, which is extremely huge It contains the same amount of water as all the oceans on Earth combined.

Every day the ‘weather’ is the same: a little warmer 1,827 °C, Its pressure in some areas is 1.3 million times the pressure of the Earth’s surface. In such a crushing environment, atoms deform and even the most common materials begin to behave very eccentric: Rocks are as flexible as plastic, while oxygen behaves like metal.

But this burning place Not left on an alien planet, and these blocks aren’t exactly wild life It is, in fact, on the ground, only inside.

relevant environment It’s the lower mantle, the layer of rock that lies just above the planet’s core. This cloak, for the most part solid, It’s another worlda circular place dotted with a spectacle of crystals, from diamonds (of which there are about a quadrillion tons) to Metals are too rare to be found on the planet’s surface.

Many of the more abundant materials found deep in the Earth have rarely been seen at the surface (Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/RINGWOODIT)

In fact, the most abundant rocks in this layer, the pergmanite and daphemaite, are largely a mystery to scientists. They need very high pressures that are unique to the interior of the planet in order to develop and They collapse if brought into our world.

We can only see them in their natural form when they are still Trapped within the diamond that reaches the surface. Even then, it is impossible to know what they actually look like inside the Earth, as their physical properties vary so much in the pressures that they are usually found beneath.

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For its part, this distant “ocean” It doesn’t even contain a drop of liquid. It is made of water trapped within the mineral olivine, which makes up more than 50% of the upper mantle. At deeper levels, it turns into indigo blue ringwoodite crystals.

“In those depths, the chemistry completely changes”Vedran Lekic, Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Maryland (USA). “As far as we know, there are some minerals that are becoming more transparent,” he says. But they are Amorphous blocks of interest to geologists around the world.

In 1970, the Soviet Union embarked on one of the most ambitious exploration projects in human history: it attempted Dig as deep as possible into the earth’s crust. that solid layer of rock, which lies on top of the mostly solid mantle, and eventually on the partially molten core of the Earth, It is the only part of the planet that the human eye has never seen. Nobody knows what will happen if they try to pass it.

No one has been able to venture beyond the Earth's crust: the Kola ultra-deep well welded (Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/RAKOT1)
No one has been able to venture beyond the Earth’s crust: the Kola ultra-deep well welded (Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/RAKOT1)

In August 1994, the Kola ultra-deep well, located in the middle of an inhospitable expanse of arctic tundra in northeastern Russia, reached dizzying depths, stretching about 12,260 meters underground. At first, the team leading the project made predictions about what they were expecting to find, specifically that The Earth will warm up 1 degree for every 100 meters it is cut towards its center.

However, it soon turned out that this was not so: in the mid-1980s, when they reached 10 km, the temperature was already 180 ° C, almost twice as much as expected. But then the exercises were disrupted. Under these harsh conditions, Granite is no longer etchable: it behaved more like plastic than rock. The experiment was stopped and no one has been able to cross the threshold of the crust to this day.

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“We know much less about Earth’s mantle than we do about outer space. – which we can observe using telescopes -, because everything we know is very indirect,” says Bernhard Steinberger, a researcher in geodynamics at the University of Oslo (Norway).

So, How to study an environment you can’t see Or the inaccessible, where even the chemical properties of the most common materials are distorted beyond recognition? Turns out there is another way.

Seismology includes the study of the energy waves it produces The sudden movement of the Earth during massive events such as earthquakes. Among them are the so-called “surface waves”, and “internal waves” that travel through the Earth’s interior.

Scientists use to catch them Tools on the other side of the world of earthquakes that seeks to discover and examine everything it can penetrate. By analyzing different wave patterns they can begin to piece together what could happen hundreds of miles underground. It is these properties that allowed the Danish geophysicist Engy Liman An important discovery in 1936.

seven years ago, Big earthquake in New Zealand led to a surprising seismic result: a kind of internal wave, which could travel through any material, managed to pass through the Earth, but it was “Bent” by an obstacle in the way. Another type of wave, which cannot pass through liquids, was not able to pass through.

This is amazing Overturning the popular belief that the core is completely solid It led to the modern theory that There is a solid inner part wrapped with a liquid outer layer, Kind of an upside-down bogeyman, so to speak.

Over time the method has been perfected and made possible Visualize the hidden depths of the Earth in three dimensions, “Using the same CT imaging techniques” used in medicine, Lekic explains. Almost immediately, this led to The discovery of two amorphous masses of the Earth. calls “Large interrupts with low cut speeds” (LLSVPS, for its English acronym), two massive regions, where seismic waves encounter resistance and slow down.

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One of them called “Tuzo”has been found Under Africa; other, “Jason”under The Pacific Ocean. As with the Earth’s core, these areas are clear Different from the rest of the scarf It is one of the largest structures on the planet. It is thousands of kilometers wide and occupies 6% of the volume of the entire planet.

Screenshot of the LLSVP video published in the 2016 article "Morphology of seismically slow lower mantle structures" by Sanne Cottaar and Vedran Lekić.
Screenshot of the LLSVP video published in the 2016 paper “Morphology of Slow Seismic Lower Mantle Structures” by San Kotar and Vedran Lekic.

Estimates of their heights vary, but it is believed The altitude of Tozu is 800 km, which is about 90 Mount Everest stacked on top of each other. For his part, Jason can stretch at an altitude of 1,800 km, which translates to about 203 Mount Everest.

Their disfigured bodies cling to the core of the Earth, like two pieces of amoebas in a speck of dust. “There is 100% certainty that these two regions are, on average, slower [en términos de la rapidez con que las ondas sísmicas se mueven a través de ellas] from the surrounding area. This is not up for debate,” says Lekich. And add, “The problem is that our ability to see in that area is blurry.”.

No matter how attractive their forms are, Almost everything else about them remains uncertain, Including how they are formed, what they are made of, and how they can affect our planet.

The Scientists know something is going on and they are trying to figure out exactly what it is, Because they think their understanding will help unravel some of the most enduring mysteries of geology, for example How the Earth was formed, the ultimate fate of the “ghost” planet Thea, and the unexplained presence of volcanoes in certain parts of the world. They can even shed light on the ways the Earth is likely to change over the next few millennia.

Lovell Loxley

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