Inside the Earth

The Earth is made up of 3 distinct layers, the crust, the mantle, and the core.
The crust, Earth’s outermost layer, is made of the lightest and coolest materials.
Earth’s deeper layers are composed of materials that are hotter, denser, and
under much greater pressure. Let’s take a journey through the layers of the
earth.

The Crust
The thin, solid, outermost layer of the earth is called the crust. The crust makes
up Earth’s thin rocky surface. Approximately 71% of the surface is covered with
water. The crust is composed of silicon, aluminum, calcium, sodium and
potassium, which are some of the main ingredients in the two most common
types of rock that make up the crust – basalt and granite. These two rocks are
the main ingredients in the two different types of crust: continental crust and
oceanic crust. The crust under the oceans is called oceanic crust; it is thinner
than continental crust (about 3-5 miles thick) and it is made up of basalt.
Continental crust, or crust that is under the continents, is thicker than oceanic
crust (about 5-25 miles thick), but it is less dense and made mostly of granite.
Continental crust is thickest beneath high mountain ranges. Temperatures in the
crust range from air temperature on the surface to about 1,600 oF near the bottom
of the crust. For comparison, bread bakes at 350 oF.
The crust and the upper mantle have very similar physical properties. Together
they make up a rigid layer that is about 60 miles thick and is called the
Lithosphere. The lithosphere is divided into huge pieces of rock called tectonic
plates. Earth’s surface is made up of approximately 14 major tectonic plates as
well as many smaller ones. Tectonic plates drift slowly (a few centimeters a year)
on top of the soft, plastic mantle, which is hotter and denser and lies directly
beneath them.

The Mantle
The Mantle is 1,800 miles thick and is composed of silicon, oxygen, magnesium,
iron, aluminum, and calcium. The mantle contains most of Earth’s mass. The
mantle gets hotter with depth. The top of the mantle is about 1,600 oF but as you
move towards the bottom of the mantle, the temperature reaches 7,000 oF. The
physical properties of the upper mantle are similar to those of the crust and,
together with the crust, it helps make up Earth’s tectonic plates (the lithosphere).
Beneath the lithosphere lies a layer of the mantle called the Asthenosphere.
The asthenosphere is made up of hot, solid rock that flows like putty or hot
asphalt. This ability to flow is called “plasticity”. The asthenosphere is able to

flow as a result of the enormous heat that moves from the center of the earth,
through the mantle towards the surface. Convection Currents carry heat from
the hot inner mantle to the cooler outer mantle. The currents form as the hot
mantle material rises, cools, and sinks back down again. As this motion
continues over and over again, it creates currents, which allow the tectonic
plates, which sit on top the asthenosphere, to move. Beneath the asthenosphere
is the lower mantle. The lower mantle is solid rock that does not move or flow
and is called the mesosphere.

The Core
The earth’s core is composed of dense metals like iron and nickel and is divided
into two parts – the outer core and the inner core. The outer core has a
thickness of about 1,400 miles. It is made up of melted metals so it is in the
liquid state. Many scientists believe that the churning, hot metals of the outer
core produce electrical currents that are responsible for producing Earth’s
magnetic field. The inner core is about 750-800 miles thick and is in the solid
state. The inner core may have temperatures up to 13,000 oF, which is hotter
than the surface of the sun. The inner core is kept in the solid state as a result of
immense pressure. At the center of the earth there is approximately 45,000,000
pounds of pressure per square inch; this is over 3,000,000 times air pressure at
Earth’s surface!