Are Earth’s Magnetic Poles Ready to Flip?

August 20, 2014

Aug. 21, 2014                                   Daniel Baker

            According to a new study from the European Space Agency the magnetic field that protects Earth from deadly solar radiation has been weakening over the past several months and some scientists say one reason this may be happening is that the magnetic poles are getting ready to flip.

            But don’t be alarmed. The poles have reversed positions before. In fact, in the last 20 million years Earth's magnetic field has reversed its poles about every 200,000 to 300,000 years.

            But Daniel Baker, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at CU-Boulder, says even if this new information indicates a flip is beginning it will be thousands of years before it happens.

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Are Earth’s Magnetic Poles Ready to Flip?

Aug. 21, 2014                                   Daniel Baker

            According to a new study from the European Space Agency the magnetic field that protects Earth from deadly solar radiation has been weakening over the past several months and some scientists say one reason this may be happening is that the magnetic poles are getting ready to flip.

            But don’t be alarmed. The poles have reversed positions before. In fact, in the last 20 million years Earth's magnetic field has reversed its poles about every 200,000 to 300,000 years.

            But Daniel Baker, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at CU-Boulder, says even if this new information indicates a flip is beginning it will be thousands of years before it happens.

CUT 1 “It is not something we have to worry about tomorrow but we’re probably looking over the next thousands of years that the Earth will undergo another of these changes where the poles flip.” (:10)

            The reason we have a magnetic field with polarities at opposite ends is a combination of the Earth spinning on it’s axis and a solid iron core deep inside the planet that is surrounded by a molten liquid outer core, says Baker, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

CUT 2 “Inside the Earth there is a solid iron core and then there is a molten outer part of that core and the motion of the molten metal core, the outer part of the core, really gives rise to magnetic fields and that is what’s called dynamo. (:17) And that dynamo field then extends out through the Earth’s surface, extends far out in to space, and that is what gives rise to the magnetic field.” (:26)

            The magnetic field is generated when convection occurs within the core, says Baker, adding that without a strong magnetic field life as we know it couldn’t survive the deadly solar winds the blast the Earth on a regular basis.

CUT 3 “We, as life forms on Earth, are immensely benefited by having this protective umbrella of the Earth’s magnetic field. It really stands off the direct impact of the solar wind. It also tends to exclude all but the very highest energy particles. (:15) And that’s probably played a very important role in helping to insulate and protect life forms from all of these insults that they’d be subjected to by the Sun and by the cosmic rays and so on.” (:29)

            Baker says he excited about the latest data coming from the European Space Agency study and the prospects of gathering more information on the Earth’s magnetic field. But he cautions the information needs to be looked at more carefully before we sound the “magnetic poles are flipping” alarm.

CUT 4 “I don’t want to disparage at all the ideas that these new results may indicate that there is something afoot with the Earth’s magnetic field on a global scale, (:09) but I do think that one has to get pretty long trends and really look carefully at the global data and make sure you understand very well how your instruments are working and how the whole experiment is working before you start to get too alarmed that somehow the magnetic field is changing much more rapidly or that we are in for a major flip of the magnetic field.” (:32)

            When the poles do flip scientists say it’s not the end of the world as some might suggest. For those doomsday theorists that believe pole reversal could be catastrophic and lead to Earth’s destruction, scientists point to geologic and fossil records from hundreds of past magnetic polarity reversals that indicate otherwise.

 

-CU-

 

 

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