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Super-Powerful X-Ray Beam Will Probe the Center of the Earth

• PopSci.com

It is much easier to get to Mars than to get deep inside this planet, so for all our knowledge about things like earthquakes and the magnetic field, Earth’s interior is actually very poorly understood. To study how metals interact at the prodigious pressures within, scientists squeeze small particles in the lab and heat them up — but this is an inexact science and difficult to do. A newly revamped X-ray beam facility in Europe may be able to improve matters, and shed some light on just what is going on at the center of our planet.

The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility inaugurates its new ID24 beam today, in preparation for experiments next spring. It will enable scientists to exact extreme pressures and temperatures on metals, aiming to understand how they act at Earth’s core. It will also be able to study new chemical catalysts and battery technology, among other atomic reactions.

A synchrotron is a type of particle accelerator — the Tevatron is one — that can be used for a wide range of applications. One such application involves harnessing the accelerated particles' electromagnetic radiation for scientific imaging. Synchrotron light sources use a series of magnetic fields to bend this radiation into different wavelengths of light. At ESRF, beamlines branch off from the particle acceleration ring to capture the particles’ (usually electrons) radiation. The new beamline, ID24, will enable incredibly fast X-ray absorption spectroscopy.

 

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