The moon

, Volume 7, Issue 3–4, pp 422–439 | Cite as

The end of the iron-core age

  • R. A. Lyttleton


The terrestrial planets aggregated essentially from small particles, to begin as solid cool bodies with the same general compositions, and there is no possibility of an iron-core developing within any of them at any stage. Their differing internal and surface properties receive ready explanation from their different masses which determine whether the pressures within are sufficient to bring about phase-changes. The claim that the terrestrial core can be identified by means of shockwave data as nickel-iron is based on theoretical misconception, whereas the actual seismic data establish an uncompressed-density value much lower than any such mixture could have. The onset of the Ramsey phase-change in the Earth takes the form of a rapid initial collapse to produce a large core in metallic state which thereafter continues to grow secularly as a result of radioactive heating and leads to reduction of surface-area at long last adequate to account for folded and thrusted mountain-building. The hypothesis implies a similar but retarded evolution for Venus. The Moon and Mars are too small in mass to have undergone the phase-change to a metallic core, and can have no resulting dipole field, nor can they develop terrestrial-type mountains. Effects resulting from a transition corresponding to the 20°-discontinuity will occur for Mars, including large-scale rifting at the surface, but will not occur on the Moon. Finally brief reference is made to subjective non-scientific factors associated with continued efforts to rely on the iron-core hypothesis despite its lack of any success in rendering the properties of the Earth explicable.


Shockwave Surface Property Seismic Data Metallic State General Composition 
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. A. Lyttleton
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of AstronomyCambridgeEngland
  2. 2.Jet Populsion LaboratoryPasadenaUSA

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