The magnetic field important for survival moves: what’s behind it

The magnetic field protects the planet from cosmic radiation and solar particles. But in some parts of the earth it is weakening and there is even speculation that the poles are reversing. An expert explains what’s happening.

A mass, consisting mainly of iron, bubbles inside 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 shapes. If they both disappeared, there would be no more life on the Blue Planet.

With the sometimes gigantic magnetic field, many things are in motion right now. There has been repeated speculation recently that… The Earth’s long-term magnetic poles reverse and could weaken the field. But how likely is it and what would it mean?

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), the Earth’s magnetic field is one 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 they can also be harmful

Solar storms they’re not just responsible for the mesmerizing Northern Lights, as they do again and again occurred in Germany. In our highly technological world they can also cause significant damage and, in particular, disturb satellites. High-energy particles and a cloud of plasma from the star at the center of the solar system travel about 150 million kilometers towards our home planet in a short period of time.

What we know so far about the magnetic field

Different from the geographical ones are the The Earth’s magnetic poles are not rigid at all. From a statistical point of view, according to Matzka the recurring process of pole reversal is long overdue. “The last pole shift occurred a long time ago, about 780,000 years ago.” This is longer than the long-term average of 300,000-500,000 years. However, there are also phases where no reversal has occurred 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 in the southern hemisphere, in the areas of South Africa, the South Atlantic and South America, the reservoir is decreasing particularly markedly. In the South Atlantic it is about 30% weaker than you would expect. In Europe, however, it is on the rise again.

The pole shift could impact species extinction

“We have some very good reconstructions of the Earth’s magnetic field that go back into the past, and you can see again and again that they change The strength of the field changes very often and very strongly, or that there will be a polar reversal,” Matzka says. “I would do it now based on the situation we don’t see that we have evidence of a reversal.” The weaknesses of the southern hemisphere could be the first factors for a reversal of course.

At the time of 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 of a polar reversal Influence on the evolution or extinction of species can take, it was there again and again. This means that some fossils end up being found exactly at the points in the cores where a field inversion was detected. However, most results would show a rather small influence.

Magnetic field anomalies pose a danger to satellites

Things look different in our high-tech age. The risks for satellites increase. If there are warnings about solar storms, systems should be turned off, Matzka says. “There is certainly the possibility that if a particularly strong event hit us, there would be more damage than we can imagine right now.”

“The magnetic field anomaly in the South Atlantic has always posed a challenge for satellites in low Earth orbits because there high-energy protons affect satellite electronics “, says Melanie Heil, coordinator of the space weather mission at ESA’s Darmstadt site. Under certain conditions satellites could be exposed to radiation more frequently.

Can you actually sense the magnetic field?

The so-called solar activity is currently increasing again in its cycle, which lasts about eleven years. According to Heil, the maximum is 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 feel the magnetic field created in the Earth’s outer core. According to ESA, scientists from the Technical University of Denmark have detected magnetic signals measured by an ESA satellite mission converted into sound. The result: the “language” of the life field is less protective and more threatening.

“Now we can feel the Earth’s magnetic field”says the speaker in an ESA video, “this is what it looks like”.

He further explains: “This symphony, let’s say, was produced by converting signals 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 completed 100,000 revolutions around the Earth so far.

Note: The article first appeared in March 2023.

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