Magnetic field that is important for survival is moving: what’s behind it

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

A mass, mainly made of iron, is bubbling inside the earth. According to experts, the ups and downs there 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 both were gone, 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 as to whether the… Earth’s magnetic poles reverse in the long term and could weaken the field. But how likely is that and what would that 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 also harmful

Solar storms are not only responsible for fascinating northern lights, as they do again and again occurred over Germany. In our highly technological world, they can also cause significant damage and, in particular, disrupt satellites. High-energy particles and a plasma cloud from the star in the center of the solar system race around 150 million kilometers to our home planet within a short period of time.

What is known so far about the magnetic field

Different from the geographical ones are the 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 reversal was quite a long time ago, approximately 780,000 years ago.” That 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 Overall magnetic field strength decreases.” This is mainly due to the fact that the field is declining particularly sharply in the southern hemisphere in the areas of South Africa, the South Atlantic and South America. In the South Atlantic it is around 30 percent weaker than would be expected. In Europe, however, it is increasing again.

Pole reversal could have an impact on species extinction

“We have some very good reconstructions of the earth’s magnetic field going 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,” says Matzka. “I would do it now based on the situation do not see that we have evidence of a reversal.” The weaknesses in the southern hemisphere could be initial factors for a reversal.

At the last field reversal, there were no modern humans on earth, so there are no records of them. But according to Matzka, oceanic sediment cores may provide information. Evidence that a polar reversal Influence on evolution or species extinction can take, was there again and again. This means that certain fossils end up being found exactly at the locations of the drill cores where a field reversal was detected. However, most results would show a rather small influence.

The magnetic field anomalies pose a danger to satellites

Things look different in our highly technological age. The risks for satellites are increasing. If there are warnings about solar storms, systems there have to be shut down, says Matzka. “There is certainly the possibility that if a particularly strong event hits us, there will be more damage than you can imagine at the moment.”

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

Can you actually perceive the magnetic field?

The so-called solar activity is currently increasing again in its cycle, which lasts around 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 really 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 into sound. The result: The “language” of the vital field is less protective and more threatening.

“We can now hear the Earth’s magnetic field”says the speaker in an ESA video, “that’s what it sounds like”.

She 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 the earth’s magnetic field. All three satellites have now circled the earth 100,000 times.

Note: The article first appeared in March 2023.

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