Saturday, June 16, 2012

Searching from space in the bowels of the Earth

The ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers of creature approved out an research on the ISS that will shed light on conditions in the depths of our planet. In orbit about 400 km height, Geoflow help us understand how the Earth works inside. Extend to a depth of almost 3000 km; the layer is composed of semi-solid materials graceful slowly under the thin outer shell. For study, it is considered that the mantle is divided into several layers of different viscosity as a result of increased pressure and temperature with depth.

The classification of mantle flow is a matter of great interest to geophysics, as this may help explain phenomena such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. The scientific community, with the help of powerful computers, has developed complex mathematical models, but how could verify its validity? The deepest well drilled to date reaches only 12 km deep, leaving the direct study of the mantle, for now, beyond our reach.
The research Geoflow
Instead of attempting a new survey, six teams of European scientists led by the University of Cottbus, Germany, studied how to recreate the Earth's mantle flow in a laboratory. These experiments help to verify the validity and improve existing mathematical models.
However, this method posed a new problem: how to simulate gravity in the model without the own gravitational field of the Earth alter the results. To fix this, the experiment was sent to as microgravity laboratory in the world: the International Space Station.
The area of Geoflow
ESA sponsored the development of an experiment, dubbed Geoflow, which mimics the structure of a planet with two concentric rotating spheres, separated by a layer of liquid. The inner sphere represents the nucleus, while the external acts as the crust. The fluid that separates the subject of study simulates the behavior of the mantle.
Free from the influence of Earth's gravity, the experiment uses a high voltage electric field to simulate a gravitational field between two spheres. This device allows controlling the rotation of the inner sphere and the temperature difference between the two surfaces, with an accuracy of one tenth of a degree, to observe how these parameters affect the movement of the fluid.

The volcanoes of Hawaii
Andre has been able to see how they were feathers hydrodynamic rose toward the outer sphere - as predicted by the simulations. The theory of mantle plumes suggests that these columns of hot material could be responsible for the formation of structures such as the volcanic islands of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.
Geoflow results not only help us better understand how our planet works, but could find direct application in industry, improving the design of gyroscopes round bearing or centrifugal pumps amongst others.

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