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Why the Moon’s early magnetic field may be responsible for life on earth



The habitat of the planet depends on many factors. One of them is the existence of a strong and durable magnetic field. These fields are generated thousands of kilometers below the planet’s surface in its liquid core and propagate far into space, protecting the atmosphere from harmful solar radiation.

Without a strong magnetic field, the planet is trying to hang a breathing atmosphere – which is bad news for life, as we know it. A new study published in Science Advances suggests that the extinct magnetic field of the moon may have helped protect our planet̵

7;s atmosphere when life formed about 4 billion years ago.

Today, the Earth has a strong global magnetic field that protects the atmosphere and low-orbit satellites from harsh solar radiation. In contrast, the Moon has neither a breathing atmosphere nor a global magnetic field.

Global magnetic fields are generated by the motion of molten iron in the nuclei of planets and moons. Energy, such as heat entering the core, is needed to keep fluid moving. When there is not enough energy, the field dies.

Without a global magnetic field, charged particles of the solar wind (solar radiation) passing close to the planet generate electric fields that can accelerate charged atoms, known as ions, from the atmosphere. This process takes place on Mars today, and as a result it loses oxygen – something that was directly measured by the atmosphere of Mars and the changing evolution (Maven). The solar wind can also collide with the atmosphere and knock molecules into space.

According to the Maven team, the amount of oxygen lost from the atmosphere of Mars in its history is equivalent to the amount contained in the global water layer, 23 meters thick.

[Read: The Moon’s surface is rusting — and Earth may be to blame]

Probing of ancient magnetic fields

A new study examines how the early fields of the Earth and the Moon may have interacted. But exploring these ancient fields is not easy. Scientists rely on ancient rocks that contain small grains that have been magnetized as rocks are formed, maintaining the direction and strength of the magnetic field at the time and place. Such rocks are rare, and careful and delicate laboratory measurements are required to obtain a magnetic signal.

An image of the ancient moon with magnetic field lines.