The magnetic field protects the planet from cosmic radiation and solar particles. But it is weakening in parts of the Earth – and there is even speculation that the poles are flipping. An expert explains what is happening.
A mass, composed mainly of iron, bubbles up from within the earth. According to experts, the ups and downs are like a boiling pot of spaghetti. The movements create the magnetic field, which, together with the atmosphere, creates the two Earth’s protective shields forms. If they both disappeared, there would be no more life on the Blue Planet.
With the sometimes gigantic magnetic field, a lot is in motion right now. Recently, there has been repeated speculation about whether the… Earth’s magnetic poles reverse in the long term and could weaken the field. But how likely is that and what would it mean?
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the Earth’s magnetic field is 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 Center for Geometric Research (GFZ) in Potsdam.
Solar storms can be beautiful – but also harmful
Solar storms are not only responsible for the fascinating northern lights, as they repeatedly do occurred over Germany. In our highly technological world, they can also cause significant damage and, in particular, disrupt satellites. High-energy particles and a cloud of plasma from the star at the center of the solar system travel about 150 million kilometers to our planet in a short period of time.
What is known so far about the magnetic field
Different from geographic ones are Earth’s magnetic poles are by no means rigid. Statistically speaking, according to Matzka, the recurring process of pole reversal is long overdue. “The last pole shift occurred a long time ago, approximately 780 thousand years ago.” This is 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: “We have known since 1840 that the The overall strength of the magnetic field decreases.” This is mainly due to the fact that the field is decreasing particularly sharply in the southern hemisphere, in the areas of South Africa, the South Atlantic and South America. In the South Atlantic it is about 30% weaker than it would be to wait. In Europe, however, it is rising again.
Pole reversal could have an impact on species extinction
“We have some very good reconstructions of the Earth’s magnetic field, going back in time, and we can see over and over again that they change The field strength changes very frequently and strongly, or that there will be a polar reversal,” says Matzka. “I would do it now based on the situation I don’t see that we have evidence of a reversal.” Weaknesses in the southern hemisphere could be initial factors for an inversion.
At the last field reversal, there were no modern humans on Earth, so there are no records of them. But according to Matzka, ocean sediment cores can provide information. Evidence that a polar reversal Influence on the evolution or extinction of species can take it, been there again and again. This means that certain fossils end up being found exactly in the locations of drill cores where a field reversal was detected. However, most results would show a rather small influence.
Magnetic field anomalies pose a danger to satellites
Things look different in our highly technological age. The risks to satellites are increasing. If there are warnings about solar storms, the systems will have to be shut down, Matzka says. “There is certainly the possibility that if a particularly strong event hits us, there will be more damage than can be imagined at this time.”
“The magnetic field anomaly in the South Atlantic has always represented a challenge for satellites in low Earth orbits because there is high-energy protons influence satellite electronics “says Melanie Heil, Space Weather Mission Coordinator at ESA’s Darmstadt facility. Under certain conditions, satellites could be exposed to radiation more frequently.
Can you really perceive the magnetic field?
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 so strong that a noticeable effect on the effects of solar storms can be expected.
You can’t actually see or hear the magnetic field created in the Earth’s outer core. According to ESA, scientists at the Technical University of Denmark have detected magnetic signals measured by an ESA satellite mission converted to sound. The result: the “language” of the vital field is less protective and more threatening.
“Now we can hear the Earth’s magnetic field”says the speaker in an ESA video, “that’s what it looks like.”
She further explains: “This symphony, so to speak, was produced by signal conversion from ESA’s SWARM mission.” The SWARM mission would consist of three satellites designed to precisely measure the various magnetic signals that determine Earth’s magnetic field. All three satellites have orbited Earth 100,000 times.
Note: The article was first published in March 2023.
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