1. Home
  2. Society
  3. What Happened During The Iron Catastrophe?

What Happened During The Iron Catastrophe?

By Antonia Čirjak January 28 2020

Around 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was nothing but a hot rock.
Around 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was nothing but a hot rock.

The Iron Catastrophe is an event that shaped planet Earth as we know it, and it happened close to 50 million years ago. It is theorized how the radioactive elements, who were trapped inside Earth, raised the temperature so much that it caused the melting of iron that eventually formed the Earth’s core. 

Overheating Of Earth

The Iron Catastrophe is considered as one of the most crucial geomorphic moments in Earth’s history. When it first formed around 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was nothing but a hot rock. However, there was still a lot of residue of the Big Bang floating around space, mostly consisting of various radioactive materials. All of this caused an overheating of our planet. The temperatures raised to the level so high that would lead to the melting of iron. During that period, temperatures reached 1,538°C (2,800°F). 

When temperatures got that high, it created an environment in which the Earth’s molten and rock materials were allowed to move rapidly. Some elements and chemical compounds, like silicates, water, and air, stayed close to the Earth’s surface. In contrast, other elements started its way towards the center. Nickel and iron began to move to the center of our planet and formed the first core. This process is known as planetary differentiation. The Earth’s core is still boiling, when compared to her exterior geo layers. The core is buried deep down in the depth of 2,900 km (1,802 mi), and it has a radius of 3,485 km (2,165 mi). The temperatures of the core are now estimated to go as high up to 6,000°C (10,800° F).

Molten Iron Core

Structure layers of the Earth.
Structure layers of the Earth. 

All of this presumably happened around 500 million years after the Earth was first formed. This whole process went hand in hand with the increase in Earth’s gravitational strength. The Earth’s gravity grew stronger as the NiFe (Nickel and Iron) bubbles started to drop down towards the center. With the temperatures rising at the same time, the Earth’s core was formed rapidly. Earth’s core was then made of molten iron that was covered by silicate magma. 

Another thing that happened after the Iron Catastrophe was the formation of Earth’s magnetic field, which is known as the magnetosphere. This is a vital layer in our atmosphere because it protects the Earth and the life on it from the harms of solar radiation and dangerous solar winds. If this was not the case, the Earth’s atmosphere would have been destroyed, and no life could ever be created because the solar winds would destroy everything. 

This was the case with another planet we have shown interest in the last few decades, Mars. Scientists argue how Mars had its own Iron Catastrophe and had that very important magnetosphere protecting it. However, Mars cooled way faster than Earth, which, as a consequence, led to the fail of the magnetosphere. The arguments that push this theory further are the findings that there was once water on Mars, which was protected from solar winds with Mars’ magnetosphere. 

More in Society

worldatlas.com

WorldAtlas