The amount of long-lived radioactive elements incorporated into a rocky planet as it forms may be a crucial factor in determining its future habitability, according to a new study by an interdisciplinary team of scientists at UC Santa Cruz.
That's because internal heating from the radioactive decay of the heavy elements thorium and uranium drives plate tectonics and may be necessary for the planet to generate a magnetic field. Earth's magnetic field protects the planet from solar winds and cosmic rays.
Convection in Earth's molten metallic core creates an internal dynamo (the "geodynamo") that generates the planet's magnetic field. Earth's supply of radioactive elements provides more than enough internal heating to generate a persistent geodynamo, according to Francis Nimmo, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz and first author of a paper on the new findings, published November 10 in Astrophysical Journal Letters.To read more, click here.