How long before Earth's core runs out of fuel?

EARTH’S core is the hidden heart of our planet, now known to be key in sustaining life on our world. This has led scientists to question how much longer Earth’s core will stay hot.

How long before Earth's core runs out of fuel?


This core is recognised as driving plate tectonics and providing shelter from the Sun’s relentlessly brutal radiation. An immense amount of power is required to propel our planet’s tectonic plate movement and power its formidable magnetic field.

The energy is derived from the Earth’s core and scientists are aware how the core is constantly cooling.

Knowing exactly how much radioactive power there is in the Earth will tell us about Earth’s consumption rate in the past and its future fuel budget

Professor William McDonough

However, at 10,000C (18,032F), many may be surprised to learn how the Earth’s core still remains hotter than the Sun’s surface Earth’s massive magnetic field stretches far out into space, where it keeps charged particles at bay before they are swept away by solar winds.

These fields create an impenetrable barrier in space preventing the fastest, most energetic electrons from hitting life on Earth.

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Such Van Allen belts allow life to thrive on Earth’s surface, as their absence would result in the solar winds stripping our protective ozone layer that blocks-out violent UV radiation.

Space scientists suspect our nearest neighbour Mars once had a Van Allen belt of its own.

But once the smaller Martian core cooled, the red planet lost its shield, creating the desolate wasteland of all that remains.

How long will the Earth’s core last?

Earth has cooled slowly but surely since gravity started to accrete cosmic dust.

Although the primordial heat has largely dissipated from the ancient period when our world was a uniform ball of hot rock, another heat source continues to warm out world’s mantle and crust.

Radioactive materials have been detected deep in the Earth, with some residing around the crust.

Part of the radioactive material decay process involves the release of heat.

But although scientists can accurately calculate such rates of decay, they do not yet understand how much of the heat is primordial.

If the Earth’s heat is mainly primordial, this core should likely cool significantly quicker.

However, if the heat is created mostly in part due to radioactive decay, then the Earth’s heat will likely last much longer.

But either scenario should not cause any alarm, as estimates for the accelerated cooling of Earth’s core involves tens of billions of years.

This is such a long time that our star will die long before the core, in approximately five billion years.

To better understand exactly how much nuclear fuel remains in Earth’s core, researchers are using advanced sensors to detect some of the tiniest subatomic particles known to science, called geoneutrinos.

These are the by-products generated from nuclear reactions taking place within stars, supernovae, black holes and nuclear reactors.

Detecting antineutrino particles is an arduous task, involving the drill huge detectors more than 0.6 miles (1km) into the Earth’s crust.

These detectors can detect the resulting bright flashes after antineutrinos smash into hydrogen atoms.

By counting the number of collisions, experts can calculate the number of uranium and thorium atoms remaining inside our planet.

Professor William McDonough, a University of Maryland geologist involved in the estuary, said: “Once we collect three years of antineutrino data from all five detectors, we are confident that we will have developed an accurate fuel gauge for the Earth and be able to calculate the amount of remaining fuel inside Earth.

“Knowing exactly how much radioactive power there is in the Earth will tell us about Earth’s consumption rate in the past and its future fuel budget.”

Originally published at Express