Science Questions

Why doesnít the moon have a magnetic field?

Sun, 23rd Nov 2008

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Question

Mark Agilar asked:

Why doesnít the moon have a magnetic field?

Answer

Chris - Thatís a very good question. Itís all to do with where the moon comes from. If you look at the composition of the moon and we know what the moonís made of because one of the people we just heard mentioned, Neil Armstrong, was there and scientists have brought back bits of the moonís surface We know the composition of the moon and the answer is that itís largely made of the same stuff as the Earthís crust. Where did it come from? Scientists have pieced back together a theoretical model of how the moon could have been made. The moonís relatively big relative to the Earth. Itís much bigger than most moons are. What scientists think is that around about the time when the Earth was first forming about 4.5 billion years ago when the solar system  was very young two planets: the Earth and a second planet which is notionally called Thea ended up on a planetary collision course. They had the planetary equivalent of an RTA. The two ran into each other and the massive catastrophic collision that ensued meant that a lot of debris from the crust of those planets got ejected like a cocoon around the earth and this other planet and the cores of those two planets merged together. What you ended up with is one bigger planet with a very dense iron core and this cocoon of very crusty material round the outside which then slowly settled just like the planets formed in the first place to form a moon which was all that debris aggregating in orbit around what was then the Earth. The core of the Earth has got a lot of iron in it. Itís a mobile iron core and we think thatís the ingredient you need to create a magnetic field. The moon being a bit smaller, colder, smaller and made principally of crust material doesnít have that iron core thatís liquid, spinning around making that magnetic dynamo effect and therefore doesnít have that magnetic field. If we didnít have that magnetic field on earth we would largely resemble Mars: a dried out prune of a planet because our magnetic field helps to deflect off the solar wind.

Dave - Also the moon being so much smaller than the Earth lost its heat a lot quicker. Itís entirely solid all the way through so you donít get this molten conducting metallic core which you need to create a strong magnetic field like the Earth has.

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