A magnetic field important for survival is moving: what lies behind it

The magnetic field protects the planet from cosmic rays and solar particles. However, in some parts of the Earth it is weakening – there is even speculation that the poles are reversing. An expert explains what is happening.

Inside the earth, a mass made mostly of iron bubbles. According to experts, ups and downs are like a boiling pot of spaghetti. The movements create a magnetic field, which, together with the atmosphere, creates both Earth’s protective shields forms. If they both disappeared, there would be no life on the Blue Planet.

With the sometimes gigantic magnetic field, there’s a lot going on right now. Recently, there has been increasing speculation about whether… In the long term, the Earth’s magnetic poles reverse and can weaken the field. But how likely is this and what does it mean?

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the Earth’s magnetic field is one a complex and dynamic force, which protects our planet from cosmic radiation and charged particles from the Sun. “We assume that the Earth’s magnetic field is a relatively chaotic process,” says geomagnetism expert Jürgen Matzka from the German Georesearch Center (GFZ) in Potsdam.

Solar storms can be beautiful – but also harmful

Solar storms are not only responsible for the fascinating aurora borealis, as they often do took place over Germany. In our highly technological world, they can also cause significant damage and, in particular, disrupt the operation of satellites. High-energy particles and a cloud of plasma from a star located in the center of the Solar System quickly travel about 150 million kilometers to our home planet.

What is known so far about the magnetic field

They are different from geographical ones The Earth’s magnetic poles are by no means rigid. Statistically speaking, according to Matzka, a repeated pole reversal is long overdue. “The last pole reversal occurred quite a long time ago, about 780,000 years ago.” That’s longer than the long-term average of 300,000 to 500,000 years. However, there are also phases in which there has been no reversal for millions of years.

According to Matzka, the fact is: “Since 1840 we have known that The overall strength of the magnetic field decreases” This is mainly due to the fact that the field decreases particularly rapidly in the southern hemisphere in the areas of South Africa, the South Atlantic and South America. In the South Atlantic, it is about 30 percent weaker than would be expected. However, it is growing again in Europe.

The reversal of the poles may have an impact on species extinction

“We have very good reconstructions of the Earth’s magnetic field going back into the past, and we can see it changing over and over again The strength of the field changes very often and very stronglyor that there will be a reversal of the poles,” says Matzka. “I would do it now, considering the situation I don’t see that we have evidence of a reversal” Weaknesses in the southern hemisphere may be the initial factors for a turnaround.

There were no modern humans on Earth during the last field reversal, so there are no records of them. However, according to Matzka, ocean sediment cores may provide information. Evidence of a polarity reversal Impact on the evolution or extinction of species bearable, I’ve been there many times. This means that some fossils are located exactly in drill core locations where field reversals were detected. However, most results would show a rather small effect.

Magnetic field anomalies pose a threat to satellites

In our highly technological age, things are different. Threats to satellites are increasing. If there are solar storm warnings, systems must be shut down, Matzka says. “There’s certainly a possibility that if a particularly strong event hits us, it could cause more damage than you can imagine right now.”

“The magnetic field anomaly in the South Atlantic has always been a challenge for satellites in low Earth orbit because that is where they are located. high-energy protons affect the satellite’s electronics “says Melanie Heil, space weather mission coordinator at the ESA center in Darmstadt. Under certain conditions, satellites may be exposed to radiation more frequently.

Can you actually see a magnetic field?

The so-called solar activity is currently increasing again in its cycle, which lasts about eleven years. According to Heil, the maximum can be expected in 2025. However, the weakening of the magnetic field is not strong enough to expect a noticeable impact on the effects of solar storms.

You can’t actually see or hear the magnetic field produced in the Earth’s outer core. According to ESA, scientists from the Technical University of Denmark detected magnetic signals measured by the ESA satellite mission converted into sound. The result: the “language” of the life field is less protective and more threatening.

“Now we can hear the Earth’s magnetic field.”says the speaker in the ESA video: “that’s what it sounds like.”

He explains further: “Let’s say this symphony was created by converting signals from ESA’s SWARM mission.” The SWARM mission would consist of three satellites designed to precisely measure various magnetic signals that determine the Earth’s magnetic field. All three satellites have already orbited the Earth 100,000 times.

Note: This article was first published in March 2023.

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