A magnetic field important for survival is moving: what is 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 is happening.

A mass, composed mainly of iron, bubbles inside the earth. According to experts, the ups and downs are like a pot of boiling spaghetti. The movements create the magnetic field which, together with the atmosphere, creates the two The protective shields of the Earth shapes. If both of them disappeared, there would be no more life on the Blue Planet.

With the sometimes gigantic magnetic field, there are a lot of things in motion right now. Recently there has been repeated speculation about whether… 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 they can also be harmful

Solar storms are not only responsible for the fascinating northern lights, as they do time and time again happened 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 time.

What is known so far about the magnetic field

Different from the geographical ones are the The Earth’s magnetic poles are not rigid at all.. According to Matzka, from a statistical point of view, the recurring process of pole reversal should have already started a long time ago. “The last pole reversal occurred quite a long time ago, approximately 780,000 years ago.” This is longer than the long-term average of 300,000 to 500,000 years. However, there are also phases where there has been no reversal for millions of years.

According to Matzka, the fact is: “We have known since 1840 that the The overall intensity of the magnetic field decreases.” This is mainly because the field is declining especially 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 percent weaker than would be expected. In Europe, however, it is increasing again.

Pole reversal could have impact on species extinction

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

At the last field inversion, 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, was there again and again. This means that certain fossils end up being found exactly in the locations in the drill cores where a field reversal was detected. However, most results would show a fairly 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 solar storm warnings, the systems must be turned off, says Matzka. “There’s certainly a chance that if we get hit by a particularly strong event, there will be more damage than you can imagine right now.”

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

Can you really perceive the magnetic field?

Currently, the so-called solar activity increases 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 really see or hear 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 turned into sound. The result: the “language” of the vital field is less protective and more threatening.

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

And 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 different magnetic signals that determine the Earth’s magnetic field. The three satellites have already circled the Earth 100,000 times.

Note: The article first appeared in March 2023.

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