(Photo : Huapei Wang, with source files courtesy of NASA’s Earth Observatory/NOAA/DOD)
Earth’s magnetic field is not about to flip. While the intensity of this field has weakened in the last couple hundred of years, researchers have found that this doesn’t mean it’s about to reverse.
Humans have lived through dips in magnetic field intensity before. However, there are debates about whether reversals of the magnetic field in the distant past had any connection to species extinctions. Today, a magnetic field reversal would have a huge impact due to one very important thing: technology. The magnetic field deflects the solar wind and cosmic rays. This means that with a weaker field, more radiation gets through which can disrupt power grids and satellite communications.
“The field may be decreasing rapidly, but we’re not yet down to the long-term average,” said Dennis Kent, one of the researchers, in a news release. “In 100 years, the field may even go back the other direction [in intensity].”
Earth’s magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called Swarm.The biggest weak spots in the magnetic field — which extends 370,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) above the planet’s surface — have sprung up over the Western Hemisphere, while the field has strengthened over areas like the southern Indian Ocean, according to the magnetometers onboard the Swarm satellites — three separate satellites floating in tandem.
The scientists who conducted the study are still unsure why the magnetic field is weakening, but one likely reason is that Earth’s magnetic poles are getting ready to flip, said Rune Floberghagen, the ESA’s Swarm mission manager. In fact, the data suggest magnetic north is moving toward Siberia.
“Such a flip is not instantaneous, but would take many hundred if not a few thousand years,” Floberghagen told Live Science. “They have happened many times in the past.”[50 Amazing Facts About Planet Earth]
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