We know the Earth’s magnetic poles will flip soon and that they’ve done it before in the past. But the magnetic field is what protects us from being roasted by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, as well as by cosmic rays from space. How are we going to survive the long period when this field is weakened during the pole reversal? Some scientists are hoping that we’ll be protected by the very solar wind that will do vast damage to our electronic infrastructure.
Marcus Chown writes in New Scientist that the Earth could interact with the solar wind to create a replacement field in the upper atmosphere during the switch. Before this, scientists feared we’d be left without any protection for thousands of years. But since the pole flip has occurred hundreds of times in the past 400 million years and life has survived, they assumed there was some kind of protection they didn’t know about.
Astronomers Guido Birk and Harald Lesch created a computer program that shows what will happen during the pole reversal. The solar wind, which is a million-mile-an-hour stream of hydrogen and helium coming from the sun, will wrap itself around the Earth in a way that creates a magnetic field as strong as the one it’s replacing. Lesch says, “We were quite surprised about its effectiveness.” This knowledge comes just in time, since the strength of the north pole is dropping at a rate of 5% every 100 years. Lesch says, “This is the fastest decrease since the last reversal 730,000 years ago.”
The model, unfortunately, leaves open a window of an unknown number of weeks or months when the earth will be exposed to the solar wind, before the substitute magnetic field self-generates. During this period, there will be vast damage to everything from electronic infrastructure to growing crops, to people exposed to the outdoors.
Unexplained by this scientific team is why the solar wind does not form a similar shield around Mars, which has no magnetic field of its own. One of the reasons that Mars is sterile of higher surface-dwelling life forms is that the solar wind strikes the planet directly.
One key to understanding the world is that we may live in a holographic universe.
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