Right below your feet, inside our earth’s liquid outer core there’s a monstrous iron serpent that’s travelling at a speed of 31 miles per year. The ‘serpent’ is currently located in the northern hemisphere and is travelling west towards Siberia and Alaska.
At the annual gathering of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) which is being held in San Francisco, experts announced that it’s probably also changing, and being driven by, the planet’s magnetic field.
In an interview with BBC News, Dr Chris Finlay, a senior scientist at the Technical University of Denmark, said “this a very dense liquid metal, and it takes a huge amount of energy to move this thing around.” According to their estimates, this so-called jet stream probably has “the fastest motion we have anywhere within the solid Earth.”
The jet stream was initially detected by three satellites from the Swarm program – an initiative by the European Space Agency with the sole purpose of mapping the planet’s magnetic field in extreme details. They detected that the stream is not only moving around but accelerating rapidly according to a study from Nature Geoscience.
At the moment, it’s 261 miles wide, encircling half of the planet’s circumference, but these numbers have gradually been increasing. Between 2000 and 2016 the height of its waves has inexplicably been increasing in length, 25 miles every year. The iron stream has become so powerfully magnetic that it’s started affecting the rotation of the earth’s solid inner core.
Experts are assuming that the jet stream is wrapped around a “tangent cylinder” which is a loosely-defined geometric structure stretching from the North Pole to the South, and encompassing the solid inner core. According to the team researching the phenomenon, the stream moves around because it’s being pulled by changes in the core’s magnetic field (imagine a bar magnet moving a string of iron filings around on a table and you’ll get the picture).
The liquid outer core was already an extremely energetic place even before the iron serpent was discovered. Located between the partially molten, huge mantle above the inner core below, the outer core is about 1,400 mile thick and it’s a turbulent maelstrom of metallic currents.
There is so much that we don’t know or can’t comprehend about this important structure but we’re on the right track to start figuring things out. We’ve encountered a new enigma that may raise more questions than provide answers but we’re confident that we’ll be able to decipher it soon enough. Until then we’ll just be amazed by the mere existence of this monstrous iron serpent right below our feet.