50 years ago, a new theory of Earth’s core began solidifying

Excerpt from the July 1, 1972 issue of Science News

an illustratiion of a molten Earth's core

In the early 1970s, scientists proposed that Earth’s solid iron core formed as the planet came together, or accreted, rather than after.

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How the Earth got its coreScience News, July 1, 1972

the cover of the July 2, 1972 issue of Science News

In the beginning, scientists believe there was an interstellar gas cloud of all the elements comprising the Earth. A billion or so years later, the Earth was a globe of concentric spheres with a solid iron inner core, a liquid iron outer core and a liquid silicate mantle…. The current theory is that the primeval cloud’s materials accreted … and that sometime after accretion, the iron, melted by radioactive heating, sank toward the center of the globe…. Now another concept is gaining ground: that the Earth may have accreted … with core formation and accretion occurring simultaneously.


Most scientists now agree that the core formed as materials that make up Earth collided and glommed together and that the process was driven by heat from the smashups. The planet’s heart is primarily made of iron, nickel and some oxygen, but what other elements may dwell there and in what forms remains an open question. Recently, scientists proposed the inner core could be superionic, with liquid hydrogen flowing through an iron and silicon lattice (SN: 3/12/22, p. 12).

Nikk Ogasa is a staff writer who focuses on the physical sciences for Science News. He has a master's degree in geology from McGill University, and a master's degree in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

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