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Quantum physics explains core anomaly

9:38pm, September 18, 2001

Scientists have used the principles of quantum physics to answer a long-standing puzzle: How can seismic waves travel at different speeds in different directions through Earth's inner core?

The velocities of seismic waves going north-south through the center of Earth are slightly faster than those traversing the core in an east-west direction. On average, however, the travel times of these waves indicate that the planet's inner core is made of iron that has a density of about 13 grams per cubic centimeter.

That's about double iron's density at the less hellish temperatures and pressures of Earth's surface.

In Earth's core, iron atoms pack together and make crystals in the shape of hexagonal prisms, says Gerd Steinle-Neumann, a geophysicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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