The Earth?s magnetic field is showing signs of getting readyto shift, so that magnetic north will point towardsAntarctica and magnetic south will point north. Compasseswill point the wrong way, and migrating birds, fish andturtles will be affected. This won?t be the first time: ithappens about every 500,000 years.
Einstein said that the origin of the Earth's magnetic fieldswas one of the greatest mysteries in physics. The Earth?smagnetic poles are constantly drifting around. Right now,magnetic north is moving out of Canada into the Arctic Oceanat about 10 miles per year.
We think the Earth?s magnetism comes from the hot outershell of molten iron that sloshes around a solid inner core.As this underground ocean of liquid metal slowly movesaround, it creates Earth?s magnetic fields. Since thisliquid metal is always moving, the Earth?s magnetic fieldfluctuates.
We can measure the Earth?s magnetic field throughout itshistory from a gigantic crack in the middle of the Atlanticocean that oozes lava. As the lava solidifies into rock, itrecords the Earth's magnetic polarity at the time. Theserecords show that we are overdue for another polar flip.
Before the magnetic field reverses, it gradually growsweaker over the previous several thousand years until italmost disappears. Then the poles switch and strongmagnetism starts up again.
Magnetism levels in ancient pottery show that over the past4,000 years, the magnetic field has weakened by more than50%. It?s dropped by 5% just this century. At this rate, themagnetic field might disappear in the next few hundred orthousand years.
Another warning sign comes from satellite measurements ofthe Earth's magnetic field. A team led by Gauthier Hulot, of the Institut de Physique duGlobe de Paris, has seen satellite images of reversedmagnetism concentrated in two places underneath the Earth'ssurface. The largest such area, beneath the southern tip ofAfrica, has a magnetic field pointing towards the center ofthe Earth, instead of outwards. The other area is near thenorth pole.
Some experts predict the poles will flip again in the next2,000 years. It will probably take between 100 and severalthousand years to complete the process. During thechangeover, it will be hard to navigate with a compass. Wedon't know what will happen to birds, fish and other animalsthat navigate using an internal compass?will they be able toadjust?
The Earth's magnetic field also stretches several hundredmiles into space and protects us from cosmic rays byfocusing them towards the poles. This is what creates thenorthern and southern lights. As the magnetic poles move,these lights are going to start appearing in new places.
During a pole flip, the protective magnetic shield of theEarth will be weakened and may even disappear for a fewhundred years. Without the magnetic shield, solar particlescould drastically affect the weather. Cosmic radiation fromthe sun also could cause genetic mutations and cancers.
One good piece of evidence is that, when scientists lookedin the fossil records for mass extinctions, they didn?t findany evidence of them happening during pole reversals, soliving creatures have been able to adjust when it?s happenedin the past.
Find out how the sun effects our lives from ?The 23rd Cycle?by Sten Odenwald,click here.
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