It has been generally believed by scientists for the last few decades that solar and planetary magnetic
fields are created in much the same way that the magnetic field in a simple toy electromagnet is produced.
A current of electricity flows through a wire and creates a magnetic field around the wire (bottom left).
A simple electromagnet science
project operates in very much the
same manner as the dynamo that
generates the earth's magnetic field.
When the wire is wrapped around a nail, a
strong electromagnet can be produced, whose strength changes as you increase or decrease
the battery current in the wire. For planets, and some of the moons of Jupiter, magnetic
fields are created by currents of charged liquids flowing within the outer core of
Copyright Calvin J. Hamilton
Planetary magnetic fields are
generated by a flow of charged
particles often in the deep viscous
outer core of the planet.
the body (top right).
These currents don't have to look like ordinary electricity that comes out of a battery. Any system of
moving charges will work just as well. They can be made of liquid iron-nickel
(Earth) or even salt water (Ganymede) which move as the planet rotates. To make the magnetic
field strong enough, the current has to flow fast enough and it also has to exhibit some turbulence or
convection. If a planet rotates too slowly, the currents do not flow fast enough to produce a strong
field. If the interior of the planet is too viscous, or there isn't enough of a temperature difference
to produce convection, the field will also not be strong enough. So, when spacecraft fly-by a planet and
detect a magnetic field, scientists can also use this information to learn about the deep interior of the planet.
Now let's see how each of the inner planets differs in its magnetism!