Space Science Reviews

, Volume 152, Issue 1, pp 449–500

Thermal Evolution and Magnetic Field Generation in Terrestrial Planets and Satellites


DOI: 10.1007/s11214-009-9587-5

Cite this article as:
Breuer, D., Labrosse, S. & Spohn, T. Space Sci Rev (2010) 152: 449. doi:10.1007/s11214-009-9587-5


Of the terrestrial planets, Earth and Mercury have self-sustained fields while Mars and Venus do not. Magnetic field data recorded at Ganymede have been interpreted as evidence of a self-generated magnetic field. The other icy Galilean satellites have magnetic fields induced in their subsurface oceans while Io and the Saturnian satellite Titan apparently are lacking magnetic fields of internal origin altogether. Parts of the lunar crust are remanently magnetized as are parts of the crust of Mars. While it is widely accepted that the magnetization of the Martian crust has been caused by an early magnetic field, for the Moon alternative explanations link the magnetization to plasma generated by large impacts. The necessary conditions for a dynamo in the terrestrial planets and satellites are the existence of an iron-rich core that is undergoing intense fluid motion. It is widely accepted that the fluid motion is caused by convection driven either by thermal buoyancy or by chemical buoyancy or by both. The chemical buoyancy is released upon the growth of an inner core. The latter requires a light alloying element in the core that is enriched in the outer core as the solid inner core grows. In most models, the light alloying element is assumed to be sulfur, but other elements such as, e.g., oxygen, silicon, and hydrogen are possible. The existence of cores in the terrestrial planets is either proven beyond reasonable doubt (Earth, Mars, and Mercury) or the case for a core is compelling as for Venus and the Moon. The Galilean satellites Io and Ganymede are likely to have cores judging from Galileo radio tracking data of the gravity fields of these satellites. The case is less clear cut for Europa. Callisto is widely taken as undifferentiated or only partially differentiated, thereby lacking an iron-rich core. Whether or not Titan has a core is not known at the present time. The terrestrial planets that do have magnetic fields either have a well-established inner core with known radius and density such as Earth or are widely agreed to have an inner core such as Mercury. The absence of an inner core in Venus, Mars, and the Moon (terrestrial bodies that lack fields) is not as well established although considered likely. The composition of the Martian core may be close to the Fe–FeS eutectic which would prevent an inner core to grow as long as the core has not cooled to temperatures around 1500 Kelvin. Venus may be on the verge of growing an inner core in which case a chemical dynamo may begin to operate in the geologically near future. The remanent magnetization of the Martian and the lunar crust is evidence for a dynamo in Mars’ and possibly the Moon’s early evolution and suggests that powerful thermally driven dynamos are possible. Both the thermally and the chemically driven dynamo require that the core is cooled at a sufficient rate by the mantle. For the thermally driven dynamo, the heat flow from the core into the mantle must by larger than the heat conducted along the core adiabat to allow a convecting core. This threshold is a few mW m−2 for small planets such as Mercury, Ganymede, and the Moon but can be as large as a few tens mW m−2 for Earth and Venus. The buoyancy for both dynamos must be sufficiently strong to overcome Ohmic dissipation. On Earth, plate tectonics and mantle convection cool the core efficiently. Stagnant lid convection on Mars and Venus are less efficient to cool the core but it is possible and has been suggested that Mars had plate tectonics in its early evolution and that Venus has experienced episodic resurfacing and mantle turnover. Both may have had profound implications for the evolution of the cores of these planets. It is even possible that inner cores started to grow in Mars and Venus but that the growth was frustrated as the mantles heated following the cessation of plate tectonics and resurfacing. The generation of Ganymede’s magnetic field is widely debated. Models range from magneto-hydrodynamic convection in which case the field will not be self-sustained to chemical and thermally-driven dynamos. The wide range of possible compositions for Ganymede’s core allows models with a completely liquid near eutectic Fe–FeS composition as well as models with Fe inner cores or cores in with iron snowfall.


Magnetic field generationThermal evolutionTerrestrial planetsSatellites

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.DLRInstitute of Planetary ResearchBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Laboratoire des sciences de la TerreENS LyonLyon Cedex 07France