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Concept: Dynamo theory


Several mammalian species spontaneously align their body axis with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field (MF) lines in diverse behavioral contexts. Magnetic alignment is a suitable paradigm to scan for the occurrence of magnetosensitivity across animal taxa with the heuristic potential to contribute to the understanding of the mechanism of magnetoreception and identify further functions of magnetosensation apart from navigation. With this in mind we searched for signs of magnetic alignment in dogs. We measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582 observations) over a two-year period. After complete sampling, we sorted the data according to the geomagnetic conditions prevailing during the respective sampling periods. Relative declination and intensity changes of the MF during the respective dog walks were calculated from daily magnetograms. Directional preferences of dogs under different MF conditions were analyzed and tested by means of circular statistics.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Magnet, Earth, Dynamo theory, Magnetism, Solar wind, Magnetosphere


Earth’s magnetic field, one of the most enigmatic physical phenomena of the planet, is constantly changing on various time scales, from decades to millennia and longer. The reconstruction of geomagnetic field behavior in periods predating direct observations with modern instrumentation is based on geological and archaeological materials and has the twin challenges of (i) the accuracy of ancient paleomagnetic estimates and (ii) the dating of the archaeological material. Here we address the latter by using a set of storage jar handles (fired clay) stamped by royal seals as part of the ancient administrative system in Judah (Jerusalem and its vicinity). The typology of the stamp impressions, which corresponds to changes in the political entities ruling this area, provides excellent age constraints for the firing event of these artifacts. Together with rigorous paleomagnetic experimental procedures, this study yielded an unparalleled record of the geomagnetic field intensity during the eighth to second centuries BCE. The new record constitutes a substantial advance in our knowledge of past geomagnetic field variations in the southern Levant. Although it demonstrates a relatively stable and gradually declining field during the sixth to second centuries BCE, the new record provides further support for a short interval of extreme high values during the late eighth century BCE. The rate of change during this “geomagnetic spike” [defined as virtual axial dipole moment > 160 ZAm(2) (10(21) Am(2))] is further constrained by the new data, which indicate an extremely rapid weakening of the field (losing ∼27% of its strength over ca. 30 y).

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Magnet, Earth, Dynamo theory, Magnetometer, Orders of magnitude, Geophysics


The Earth’s inner core grows by the freezing of liquid iron at its surface. The point in history at which this process initiated marks a step-change in the thermal evolution of the planet. Recent computational and experimental studies have presented radically differing estimates of the thermal conductivity of the Earth’s core, resulting in estimates of the timing of inner-core nucleation ranging from less than half a billion to nearly two billion years ago. Recent inner-core nucleation (high thermal conductivity) requires high outer-core temperatures in the early Earth that complicate models of thermal evolution. The nucleation of the core leads to a different convective regime and potentially different magnetic field structures that produce an observable signal in the palaeomagnetic record and allow the date of inner-core nucleation to be estimated directly. Previous studies searching for this signature have been hampered by the paucity of palaeomagnetic intensity measurements, by the lack of an effective means of assessing their reliability, and by shorter-timescale geomagnetic variations. Here we examine results from an expanded Precambrian database of palaeomagnetic intensity measurements selected using a new set of reliability criteria. Our analysis provides intensity-based support for the dominant dipolarity of the time-averaged Precambrian field, a crucial requirement for palaeomagnetic reconstructions of continents. We also present firm evidence for the existence of very long-term variations in geomagnetic strength. The most prominent and robust transition in the record is an increase in both average field strength and variability that is observed to occur between a billion and 1.5 billion years ago. This observation is most readily explained by the nucleation of the inner core occurring during this interval; the timing would tend to favour a modest value of core thermal conductivity and supports a simple thermal evolution model for the Earth.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Dynamo theory, Planet, Outer core, Inner core, Geomagnetic reversal


The notion that animals can detect the Earth’s magnetic field was once ridiculed, but is now well established. Yet the biological nature of such magnetosensing phenomenon remains unknown. Here, we report a putative magnetic receptor (Drosophila CG8198, here named MagR) and a multimeric magnetosensing rod-like protein complex, identified by theoretical postulation and genome-wide screening, and validated with cellular, biochemical, structural and biophysical methods. The magnetosensing complex consists of the identified putative magnetoreceptor and known magnetoreception-related photoreceptor cryptochromes (Cry), has the attributes of both Cry- and iron-based systems, and exhibits spontaneous alignment in magnetic fields, including that of the Earth. Such a protein complex may form the basis of magnetoreception in animals, and may lead to applications across multiple fields.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Magnetic field, Molecular biology, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Dynamo theory, Magnetism


The conduction of heat through minerals and melts at extreme pressures and temperatures is of central importance to the evolution and dynamics of planets. In the cooling Earth’s core, the thermal conductivity of iron alloys defines the adiabatic heat flux and therefore the thermal and compositional energy available to support the production of Earth’s magnetic field via dynamo action. Attempts to describe thermal transport in Earth’s core have been problematic, with predictions of high thermal conductivity at odds with traditional geophysical models and direct evidence for a primordial magnetic field in the rock record. Measurements of core heat transport are needed to resolve this difference. Here we present direct measurements of the thermal conductivity of solid iron at pressure and temperature conditions relevant to the cores of Mercury-sized to Earth-sized planets, using a dynamically laser-heated diamond-anvil cell. Our measurements place the thermal conductivity of Earth’s core near the low end of previous estimates, at 18-44 watts per metre per kelvin. The result is in agreement with palaeomagnetic measurements indicating that Earth’s geodynamo has persisted since the beginning of Earth’s history, and allows for a solid inner core as old as the dynamo.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Dynamo theory, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Heat transfer


Magnetohydrodynamic turbulence is important in many high-energy astrophysical systems, where instabilities can amplify the local magnetic field over very short timescales. Specifically, the magnetorotational instability and dynamo action have been suggested as a mechanism for the growth of magnetar-strength magnetic fields (of 10(15) gauss and above) and for powering the explosion of a rotating massive star. Such stars are candidate progenitors of type Ic-bl hypernovae, which make up all supernovae that are connected to long γ-ray bursts. The magnetorotational instability has been studied with local high-resolution shearing-box simulations in three dimensions, and with global two-dimensional simulations, but it is not known whether turbulence driven by this instability can result in the creation of a large-scale, ordered and dynamically relevant field. Here we report results from global, three-dimensional, general-relativistic magnetohydrodynamic turbulence simulations. We show that hydromagnetic turbulence in rapidly rotating protoneutron stars produces an inverse cascade of energy. We find a large-scale, ordered toroidal field that is consistent with the formation of bipolar magnetorotationally driven outflows. Our results demonstrate that rapidly rotating massive stars are plausible progenitors for both type Ic-bl supernovae and long γ-ray bursts, and provide a viable mechanism for the formation of magnetars. Moreover, our findings suggest that rapidly rotating massive stars might lie behind potentially magnetar-powered superluminous supernovae.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Magnetohydrodynamics, Dynamo theory, Supernova, Dimension, Plasma, Star


The 11-year solar magnetic cycle shows a high degree of coherence in spite of the turbulent nature of the solar convection zone. It has been found in recent high-resolution magnetohydrodynamics simulations that the maintenance of a large-scale coherent magnetic field is difficult with small viscosity and magnetic diffusivity (≲10 (12) square centimenters per second). We reproduced previous findings that indicate a reduction of the energy in the large-scale magnetic field for lower diffusivities and demonstrate the recovery of the global-scale magnetic field using unprecedentedly high resolution. We found an efficient small-scale dynamo that suppresses small-scale flows, which mimics the properties of large diffusivity. As a result, the global-scale magnetic field is maintained even in the regime of small diffusivities-that is, large Reynolds numbers.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Fundamental physics concepts, Fluid dynamics, Magnetohydrodynamics, Dynamo theory, Plasma, Reynolds number, Corona


Knowing when the geodynamo started is important for understanding the evolution of the core, the atmosphere, and life on Earth. We report full-vector paleointensity measurements of Archean to Hadean zircons bearing magnetic inclusions from the Jack Hills conglomerate (Western Australia) to reconstruct the early geodynamo history. Data from zircons between 3.3 billion and 4.2 billion years old record magnetic fields varying between 1.0 and 0.12 times recent equatorial field strengths. A Hadean geomagnetic field requires a core-mantle heat flow exceeding the adiabatic value and is suggestive of plate tectonics and/or advective magmatic heat transport. The existence of a terrestrial magnetic field before the Late Heavy Bombardment is supported by terrestrial nitrogen isotopic evidence and implies that early atmospheric evolution on both Earth and Mars was regulated by dynamo behavior.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Dynamo theory, Plate tectonics, Planet, Atmosphere, Zircon


In solar-type stars (with radiative cores and convective envelopes like our Sun), the magnetic field powers star spots, flares and other solar phenomena, as well as chromospheric and coronal emission at ultraviolet to X-ray wavelengths. The dynamo responsible for generating the field depends on the shearing of internal magnetic fields by differential rotation. The shearing has long been thought to take place in a boundary layer known as the tachocline between the radiative core and the convective envelope. Fully convective stars do not have a tachocline and their dynamo mechanism is expected to be very different, although its exact form and physical dependencies are not known. Here we report observations of four fully convective stars whose X-ray emission correlates with their rotation periods in the same way as in solar-type stars. As the X-ray activity-rotation relationship is a well-established proxy for the behaviour of the magnetic dynamo, these results imply that fully convective stars also operate a solar-type dynamo. The lack of a tachocline in fully convective stars therefore suggests that this is not a critical ingredient in the solar dynamo and supports models in which the dynamo originates throughout the convection zone.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Dynamo theory, Electromagnetic radiation, Sun, Electromagnetic spectrum, Convection, Star, Jupiter


Lunar rocks contain a record of an ancient magnetic field that seems to have persisted for more than 400 million years and which has been attributed to a lunar dynamo. Models of conventional dynamos driven by thermal or compositional convection have had difficulty reproducing the existence and apparently long duration of the lunar dynamo. Here we investigate an alternative mechanism of dynamo generation: continuous mechanical stirring arising from the differential motion, due to Earth-driven precession of the lunar spin axis, between the solid silicate mantle and the liquid core beneath. We show that the fluid motions and the power required to drive a dynamo operating continuously for more than one billion years and generating a magnetic field that had an intensity of more than one microtesla 4.2 billion years ago are readily obtained by mechanical stirring. The magnetic field is predicted to decrease with time and to shut off naturally when the Moon recedes far enough from Earth that the dissipated power is insufficient to drive a dynamo; in our nominal model, this occurred at about 48 Earth radii (2.7 billion years ago). Thus, lunar palaeomagnetic measurements may be able to constrain the poorly known early orbital evolution of the Moon. This mechanism may also be applicable to dynamos in other bodies, such as large asteroids.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Spin, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Dynamo theory, Moon, Asteroid, Dynamo