Mercury’s crust is magnetized

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Figure 1. MESSENGER spacecraft shown over colour-enhanced image of Mercury. Magnetometer at end of 12-foot boom to left. Graphics: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Figure 1. MESSENGER spacecraft shown over colour-enhanced image of Mercury. Magnetometer at end of 12-foot boom to left. Graphics: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

More good news for creation science


Published: 18 July 2012 (GMT+10)

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft (figure 1) is continuing to produce surprising new evidence that Mercury’s magnetic field is as young as the Bible says. Since March 2011 the spacecraft has been in a near-polar orbit around Mercury. By now it has orbited the planet nearly a thousand times, repeatedly passing over the entire surface. Swooping low over the northern volcanic plains, the spacecraft discovered that the planet’s outer crust in that region is strongly magnetized.1 The strongest magnetization coincides with a broad topographic rise near the center of those plains. That leads the analyzing team to believe that the magnetization comes from basalt solidified from lava flowing up out of the deeper crust throughout the plain.

The crust magnetization is nearly vertical, just as is the planet’s overall magnetic field in those high latitudes. But MESSENGER found that the magnetization is opposite to the direction of today’s field, indicating that Mercury has reversed the direction of its field at least once in the past. The team of analysts says this

“ … implies that the magnetization is a remanent [remaining, permanent] magnetization acquired [in the past] when Mercury’s magnetic field was of the opposite polarity, and possibly stronger, than the present field.”

The last phrase above would have been more accurate if it had said, “ … and very probably much stronger than the present field.” Here’s why: The amount of magnetization depends on the amount and mineral form of iron in the rock, and on the strength of the field when it cools. The analysts conjectured that the iron in the crustal rocks is pure,2 an unlikely composition that might allow the past magnetizing field to be weak. However, the measured magnetism of basalts here on earth suggests that Mercury’s crustal basalts acquired their magnetism in a field at least ten times stronger than Mercury’s field today.3

This adds to the string of surprises Mercury’s magnetic field has given uniformitarian4 space scientists. Before Mariner 10 zoomed by the planet in 1974 and 1975, experts had expected the planet to have zero field. Instead, those flybys showed that Mercury has a significant magnetic field, about 1% of Earth’s. Since then, theorists have tried many versions of the ‘dynamo’ theory (which imagines a planet’s core acting like an electric generator) to explain how Mercury could have a field and sustain it for eons. In the last few years, they have been trying to understand why the field is so low compared to Earth’s.

Especially relevant here, all versions of the dynamo theory assert that, except for brief periods when the field might have reversed itself, Mercury’s field should have stayed at much the same strength throughout the alleged billions of years of its existence. Evidence for a large decrease of the field sometime in the past adds to the theorists’ perplexity. That may be why the analyzing team apparently wanted to dilute that detail.

Magnetized crust validates a prediction

In contrast, the above result vindicates one of two scientific predictions about Mercury’s magnetic field made by a biblically-based creationist theory. I offered it in 1984 to explain how God created magnetic fields of planets in our solar system.5

If the theory were correct, the article said, then

“Older igneous rocks from Mercury or Mars should have natural remanent magnetization, as the Moon’s rocks do.”

By ‘older,’ I meant rocks that formed not long after creation, while the fast-decaying magnetic fields of those two planets would be still moderately strong. I said ‘from’ because I was picturing that rocks from Mars and Mercury would have to be brought back by astronauts for lab tests, the way they did for Moon rocks. I had no idea that low-orbiting spacecraft would someday be able to detect crustal magnetizations. But new space science developments have opened the door to such measurements, in 1997–1999 for Mars,6 and during the last year for Mercury.

Fast-fading field validates a second Mercury prediction

Measurements MESSENGER made from orbit last year, compared with the 1975 Mariner 10 data, show that Mercury’s magnetic field has weakened by nearly 8% in the past 36 years, an astonishingly fast decrease. That supports a prediction in the 1984 paper:

“Mercury’s decay rate is so rapid that some future space probe could detect it fairly soon. In 1990 the planet’s magnetic moment should be 1.8 percent smaller than its 1975 value.”7

The observed rate agrees with Mercury’s core having an electrical conductivity close to that of Earth’s core.8 The next issue of Journal of Creation will give more details.9

The fast rate of decay (half-life of 320 years) implies the crust was magnetized only thousands of years ago.

Valid predictions are important

The above two items for Mercury’s magnetic field, its fast fading and its magnetized crust, complete the five predictions in my 1984 paper, all of which spacecraft have now verified.10 Also, I have extended the application of the theory to other astronomical objects inside the solar system (asteroids, meteorites, moons of other planets) and outside the solar system (stars, magnetic stars, white dwarfs, pulsars, magnetars, galaxies, the cosmos itself). Amazingly (at least for me), this theory fits these objects well, too.11

The main importance of the good fit to known data and the verified predictions12 is that they support the biblical account of creation and Scripture’s young age for the cosmos. The theory could fit the magnetic data we now have for the solar system only if:

  1. The original material God created were water (which God then transformed to the present materials), per 2 Peter 3:5 (Greek and NAS) and other passages.
  2. The Earth and solar system were close to the 6,000-year age given by a straightforward reading of Scripture.

Thus, magnetic fields in the cosmos serve as God’s signature on his creation, and like everything in the heavens, they give glory to Him (Psalm 19:1).


  1. Purucker, M.E. et al., Evidence for a crustal magnetic signature on Mercury from MESSENGER magnetometer observations, 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas, USA., March 19–23, 2012, archived at www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2012/pdf/1297.pdf. My thanks to Andrew Lamb of CMI for alerting me to this article. Return to text.
  2. Mason, B. and Berry, L.G., Elements of Mineralogy, W.H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, CA, USA, p. 212, 1968. Near the end of their abstract the MESSENGER team suggests that the magnetic carrier in the rock consists of easy-to-magnetize ‘single-domain’ (=tiny) particles of ‘native’ (= pure = elemental) iron. But such a composition is rare in basalts, as this reference notes, because normally tiny particles of elemental iron would chemically combine quickly with other elements in hot silicate rock as it cooled down from its molten state. Return to text.
  3. Coe, R.S. et al., Geomagnetic paleointensities from radiocarbon-dated lava flows on Hawaii and the question of the pacific nondipole low, Journal of Geophysical Research 83(B4):1740–1756, 10 April 1978. The ordinate of Fig. 1(a) at zero ‘TRM’ gives the initial ‘NRM’ (magnetization) of one basalt sample, ~23 A/m (10-3 emu/cm3 = 1 A/m) from cooling in a field of 51.4 µT (0.514 Gauss). Fig. 3 similarly gives a magnetization of ~2.9 A/m for basalt that formed in a field of 14.4 µT. Other references give a similar range of magnetizations for basalts. Ref. 1, Fig. 3, gives minimum magnetizations (to cause the observed perturbations to Mercury’s field) for various possible thicknesses of the magnetized layer. For 15 km thickness (below which depth the crust is probably too hot to retain magnetization for long), the minimum is 1 A/m. For the 2 km thickness the analysts say is a likely regional maximum, extrapolating the figure gives about 5 A/m for the crust magnetization. Using all the above figures gives us a magnetic field between 5 and 25 µT. Such intensities are considerably higher than today’s field in the high latitudes of Mercury, about 0.5 µT. I.e., these numbers imply the field was at least ten to fifty times higher when the crust cooled than today. Return to text.
  4. Uniformitarianism is the skeptical belief that ‘all continues just as it was from the beginning’ of the universe (2 Peter 3:4) without any large-scale interventions by God. It is the basic assumption behind long-age interpretations of geological, nuclear, and astronomical data. Return to text.
  5. Humphreys, D.R., The creation of planetary magnetic fields, Creation Research Society Quarterly 21(3):140–149, December 1984. Return to text.
  6. Connerney, J.E.P. et al., Magnetic lineations in the ancient crust of Mars, Science, 284:279–793, 30 April 1999. Return to text.
  7. Humphreys, ref. 5, p. 147, item 2 in conclusion. I estimated the 1.8% decrease by assuming a constant-rate decay from the strength at creation (from my theory) down to the strength in 1975, and then extrapolating from 1975 to 1990. Extrapolating further implies a 4.3% decrease from 1975 to 2011. The additional 3.5% (to make the 7.8% actually measured for the 36-year period) may be due to a non-constant decay rate, which perhaps steadily increased from creation until now. See Humphreys, ref. 9 for a reason why that may have occurred. Return to text.
  8. Smith, D.E., et al. Gravity field and internal structure of Mercury from MESSENGER, Science 336:214–217, 13 April 2012. These measurements show that Mercury’s core radius is a whopping 85% of the planet’s overall radius. The decay time depends on the product of core conductivity and the square of the core radius. The new figures reduce the estimate of Mercury’s core conductivity I made earlier, bringing it into line with those of Earth and Mars. Details in next reference. Return to text.
  9. Humphreys, D. R., Mercury’s magnetic field is fading fast—latest spacecraft data confirm evidence for a young solar system, Journal of Creation 26(2):6–8, August 2012, in press. My calculation of the decrease, giving 7.8 (± 0.8) %, re-analyzes the 1975 Mariner 10 data in terms of the zero tilt and significant offset MESSENGER found in 2011. Return to text.
  10. Humphreys, ref. 5, p. 147. There is also a less-important prediction: that Pluto will turn out to have no magnetic field when a spacecraft visits it. That should be in July, 2015 by NASA’s New Horizons space probe. The prediction rests on the assumption (from Pluto’s density) that Pluto is entirely ice, which I expected would have a low electrical conductivity. Uniformitarians also expect it to be entirely ice, so according to their ‘dynamo’ theories (which must have a fluid conducting interior), they also expect no magnetic field. Return to text.
  11. Humphreys, D.R., The creation of cosmic magnetic fields, Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism, Snelling, A.A. (ed.), Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, and Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, pp. 213–230, 2008. Return to text.
  12. Humphreys, ref. 5, p. 147. As I pointed out in the conclusion, testable predictions are a counter-example to the frequent skeptics’ claim that creationists have no scientific theories because they offer no predictions that make the theories open to scientific testing. The fact that this theory has now passed five predictive tests—tests intimately linked to its central assertions—should give skeptics some reason to reconsider their position. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

David H.
Russ, I’ve been following your theory and it's progress since your article in CSRQ in 1984. I’ve also given a number of presentations based on your findings. Well done. I will incorporate your new information into future presentations.
Danie P.
I rejoice with you Dr Humphreys! Bravo bravo!
Hermann S.
I am wonder for this news! Thanks to share with us an give us a clear view! But for the people compromised with the 0145popular view’ (I mean evolution) always they will find something to attack with emotionals reaction more than arguments. Please, continue with your interesting work! God Bless you! The worst blind is who doesn’t want to see …
Keith W.
Interesting article but I'm not convinced this ‘proves’ a young earth. Firstly, the article indulges in quote mining. In the first reference fromthe article it says: “We infer, therefore, that the magnetic carrier may be native iron. The low average iron content of surface material (<4%) [9] is compatible with the strength of the observed, long-lived remanent field, as long as native iron is in a single-domain state.”

Native here means that the iron was present when Mercury first formed. The iron is pure (iron is an element so is pure by definition) but the basalt crustal rocks aren’t pure iron. It’s the percentage of iron in those rocks that determines the magnetic field strength. Ref 3 which is quote mined as well includes “Radiocarbon ages have been published for nine basaltic lava flows on the island of Hawaii; the ages range from 2600 to somewhat older than 17,900 years B.P.” in its abstract. This article does not support a young earth theory. Why should basalts in Hawaii and on Mercury be of the same composition? Hawaii is warm but not as warm as Mercury! Basalt refers to how the rock is formed, not its chemical composition which is variable.
Jonathan Sarfati
“Native” in mineralogy does mean the pure element:

Native element minerals are those elements that occur in nature in uncombined form with a distinct mineral structure.

Native should not be confused with primordial. Individual atoms are almost always primordial (the main exceptions are from daughter nuclides resulting from radioactive decay), but neither the elemental state nor a compound need be primordial. But iron is such a reactive element that it would always be combined with something else, including oxygen present in any molten rocks containing silicate.

The basalts were indeed chemically fairly similar to those in Hawaii, although a little less silica content:

In particular, Mg/Si, Al/Si, and Ca/Si ratios lie between those typical of basalt and more ultramafic rocks comparable to terrestrial komatiites, which are high-Mg, high-temperature, low viscosity lavas that erupted mostly during the Archaean on earth. [Head, J.W. et al., Flood volcanism in the northern high latitudes of Mercury revealed by MESSENGER, Science 333:1853–1856, 20 September 2011.]

The chemistry depends on the chemical composition of the lava, and rapid cooling to produce the fine-grained texture (although see Granite formation: catastrophic in its suddenness). This would occur at temperatures both of Hawaii and Mercury, since they are very cold compared to the melting point of the lava.

The charge of ‘quote-mining’ is a common fetish of evolutionists, but this is thoroughly answered under Objection 5 in Responses to our 15 Questions: part 1. We are perfectly well aware that the authors do not support a young earth, and never claimed otherwise; we point out that their data do, and from ‘hostile witnesses’. In the case in point, the point of the relatively recent 14C dates was so the researchers could ‘date’ the lava flows.
Jorge S.
A few scientists don’t manage to see their theories vindicated in their lifetimes, but the Lord has granted you a gift such as that.

He truly rewards His faithful servants!

William I.
LOL...so how many versions of the Bible did you have to through to find one that specifically said the word "magnetic". Sure...give thanks to god for real science proving a lucky interpretation of an obscure passage.
Russ Humphreys
In addition to your sarcasm, William, do I detect a bit of sour grapes? There is certainly some logical inconsistency in what you wrote. If God did not intend the passages (note plural) to mean what they seem to say so clearly, then why should He provide me an "interpretation" of them that would contradict what He actually meant them to say? I do thank Him for assigning me the job of showing how the magnetic fields of planets declare the glory of God ... and the glory is all His.
Nathan G.
As I understand it, the Earth’s magnetic field reversals are hypothesized to be the result of convective motion of the mantle during an episode of catastrophic continental ‘sprint’ leading up to during the Flood. What is the proposed mechanism for paleomagnetic reversal on Mercury?
Russ Humphreys
Thanks for the good question, Nathan. Almost anything that causes rapid (meters-per-second) fluid motions (convection) in the fluid cores of planets should cause reversals of the magnetic field, according to the theory I published in the Proceedings of the 1990 International Conference of Creationism. See Physical Mechanism for Reversals of the Earth’s Magnetic Field During the Flood.

For the case of the earth, the cooling effect of the plunging tectonic plates arriving at the top of the core would have been enough to cause the convection. However, heat from accelerated nuclear decay (hypothesized by the RATE project) in the earth's interior may have been the trigger that started the plates plunging. If a significant amount of accelerated decay occurred in the core also, then the heat from that factor alone may have been enough to cause rapid convection.

In the case of Mercury, we don’t know if there was a tectonic overturn. (One appears to have happened on Venus). But the accelerated nuclear decay RATE postulated probably occurred throughout the universe, so it probably happened in Mercury’s core also. That may be the cause of Mercury’s magnetic field reversals.
Richard M.
The validity of a scientific theory does not consist solely in its making successful predictions (which can be selectively interpreted by its proponents). If in its underlying structure it is incompatible with the experimentally-verified operation of basic physics, then its predictions may be no more than lucky guesses. Dr. Humphreys says: “The original material God created were [sic] water (which God then transformed to the present materials), per 2 Peter 3:5 (Greek and NAS) and other passages.”
The physics and astronomy communities would be extremely interested in a mechanism that could transform oxygen and hydrogen into all of the 92-plus elements, all the while preserving the initial magnetic moments of the original water molecules (and accounting for the observed distribution of elements)! Invoking selective miracles to “paper over” the tough spots in a proposed theory does not add to its credibility. Remember that medieval alchemy, Ptolemaic astronomy, and phlogiston theory (among many others) also made predictions with varying degrees of success, but their underlying basis was shown to be faulty. Your readers would do well to look at the whole picture, not just the advertized results.
Russ Humphreys
I glad that you find this work provoking to your skepticism, Dr. M. First, just as an explanation of English grammar, perhaps you didn’t notice that the phrase of mine you quoted was preceded by an “if”. That puts the verb in the phrase into the subjunctive mood, which in our language requires it to be “were”, not “was”. So your “[sic]” was unnecessary. It failed to communicate the erudition you wanted us to see.

Next, and much more important, you need to understand that the world-view you are most likely advocating requires a much greater miracle than the nuclear transformation of oxygen and hydrogen into other elements. Your theory requires that matter and energy came into existence out of nothing! If you are an anti-theistic skeptic, then you also require that it came into existence out of nothing entirely by accident!

Last, you need to understand the creation scientist's use of miracles in theories. If the Bible clearly spells out that something happened, then the theorist is entitled to look for scientific consequences of that event. In other words, I prefer to stick with the miracles Scripture says happened … not the miracles that skeptics claim happened.
John T.
The second conclusion of the article is clearly well founded and is a terrific apologetic for young-earth creationism. However, I cannot see a basis for the first conclusion, that "the original material God created were water" in the article. It would be helpful to have this clarified.
Peter H.
I understand that the Earth has undergone reversals of its magnetic field. If this also the case for Mercury, a currently reducing field would not necessarily say anything about the age of Mercury.
Jonathan Sarfati
The matter of field reversals is answered in The earth’s magnetic field: evidence that the earth is young, based on work by the author of this article, Dr Humphreys. In short, Earth has undergone very rapid reversals that would have depleted the magnetic energy even faster.

Russ Humphreys responds:

I think Peter is implying that Mercury may be at the tail end of a reversal, in which case its present catastrophic decline would not be a free decay of its interior electric current, but rather a decay powered by the alleged 'dynamo' in its core. Then we couldn't use the decline to estimate an age.
That is a possibility, but a very unlikely one. According to the long-ages view of earth's magnetic reversals, they happen rapidly (taking only thousands of years) but very infrequently (millions to tens of millions of years between reversals). The long-agers' view of earth's present decline is also that it is a reversal in progress. What is the probability that two such unlikely events would be happening on two different planets at the same time? Pretty low.
I prefer the much more likely alternative: Mercury is as young as the Bible says.
Jeff M.
Dear Dr Humphreys

As your other correspondents have already said, this is indeed amazing, proving once and for all that The Creator made Mercury very recently. What was the reaction of the people at the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, when you presented your findings?

Yours sincerely

Russ Humphreys
Dear Jeff: I'm glad you like the article. But I wasn't at the conference you mention. In footnote 1, I was trying to make it clear that I hadn't even been aware of the paper about magnetized crust at that conference until several months later, when Andrew Lamb of CMI alerted me to it. But it would be interesting to know what the MESSENGER team may think of this article if it ever comes to their attention. Best regards in Christ --- Russ Humphreys
Bob S.
Thank you Heavenly Father for such a powerful confirming witness to the integrity of biblical history. May you continue to bless and expand the ministry of CMI and may you increase the number of highly qualified and successful in their field scientists on CMI's ministry team. May Almighty God bless you all and help you exceedingly with your crucial work.

many thanks

Patrick D.
I just wish I could break through the apathy of the children of god. Just because the age of the universe doesn't have a direct impact on their salvation, they don't reckon that it can be crucial to those who have enquiring minds.
Russ Humphreys
Hi Patrick: Every creationist feels that frustration. For years I felt that Christians should automatically see the relevance of creation science to their daily walk with Christ. But then some very successful creationist speakers made me understand that it just doesn't happen automatically ... that we need to spend time explaining to almost every believer that creation is very important to them.
One of the reasons for the need is that they have been brainwashed by compromising church leaders into thinking that it is not important. One crucial thing to explain is that how we view Genesis chapter One affects how we view all Scripture.
If Genesis One is mere meaningless "allegory", then most people start thinking of the whole Bible the same way. Then they lose motivation to spend time in Scripture for themselves. After that, their walk with Christ begins to suffer. They wind up being defeated and miserable. Teaching about creation and its relevance is necessary (but not sufficient) to cure that condition.
Best regards in Christ --- Russ Humphreys
Matthew L.
I'm grateful for articles like this. Many evolutionists claim that creationists don't have scientific models but these types of articles prove them wrong. It's amazing how every new scientific discovery can be used to support Biblical Creation.

This article brings to mind one of my favorite Bible verses. Psalm 19:1 "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork"
Richard O.

Even though my understanding of science is limited, your articles are written in such a way so that I understand enough to marvel at our great God and His creation.

I am encouraged and my faith is invigorated by your good work.
Sam H.

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