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Science & Technology

How much energy remains within the Earth ?

By T.K. Randall
September 20, 2016 · Comment icon 7 comments

Our planet is still very much an active world. Image Credit: YouTube / DJI
How long will it be before the Earth essentially 'dies' and all active processes grind to a halt ?
Despite having formed over 4.6 billion years ago, the interior of our planet is still blisteringly hot due to two types of energy - primordial energy, which is left over from the Earth's formation, and nuclear energy, which is essentially the heat being produced by radioactive decay.

This energy is responsible for the active planetary processes that we still see happening to this day such as volcanism and the shifting of the tectonic plates. The Moon, by contrast, is mostly a 'dead' world in that it no longer possesses enough energy for these processes to take place.

To learn more about how much more fuel the Earth still has left in its tank, Professor William McDonough and his team at the University of Maryland are aiming to measure the Earth's geoneutrinos - subatomic particles which are the byproducts of radioactive decay.
"The particles will tell us about how many atoms of uranium and thorium are inside the Earth," said McDonough. "Therefore, that will tell us about how much radioactivity potential there exists."

"We know the Earth radiates 46 terawatts of heat, or power, and so what we determine for nuclear energy, the difference would amount to the primordial energy left."

The project will involve the use of five special detectors situated at key locations around the world however the results of the research are not expected until 2025 at the earliest.

"We're in a field of guesses," said McDonough. "At this point in my career, I don't care if I'm right or wrong. I just want to know the answer."

Source: Live Science | Comments (7)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Ell 7 years ago
Comment icon #2 Posted by Wes4747 7 years ago
I like that bit-i don't care if I'm right or wrong, I just want to know the answer-well said
Comment icon #3 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
Well a thought stuck me the other day.  Boy did it hurt  I wondered what's happening to the size of the Earth's core every time a volcano erupts and then "reloads"  And isn't the Earth's core cooling ever so slightly over the eons?  As it cools, wouldn't the mass shrink?  Wouldn't the Earth shift it's mass through earthquakes trying to fill the void?  In doing so, wouldn't the Earth be shrinking as well?  Maybe the ocean levels aren't rising.  Maybe the Earth is shrinking!  I told you the thought hurt. 
Comment icon #4 Posted by Socks Junior 7 years ago
So volcanic activity typically involves lithospheric process - that is the crust and uppermost mantle, several hundred km at most. That's where you have your magma chambers, "plumbing" systems, etc. The core is almost 3000 km down. That's over an order of magnitude of distance further down than typical volcanic processes operate at. Of course, what about mantle plumes, I can hear you thinking. Those do probably arise from the D'' layer just above the core (thermal boundary layer between basal lower mantle and core. And they do rise quickly (relatively) and set off massive LIPs. Most likely. Th... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by CJ1983 7 years ago
37.54 years
Comment icon #6 Posted by Jungleboogie 7 years ago
So since his career is just about over he can finally put aside financial bias, tenure and funding bias & professional ego.  He will actually attack the problem with an open and curious scientific mind.  Isn't that what he was supposed to do from the start? Wierd statement, its almost like a confession, like he is looking for absolution.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Poppi 7 years ago oil decayed dinosaurs (lol) and plant materials, or an abiotic byproduct of the Earths mantle? There are many examples of "depleted" oil fields filling up with oil again...Is it possible oil is a recurring resource?- yep. CFACT- Caruba...

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