Oct 22, 2014 04:58 PM EDT
Scientists are now claiming that Earth's magnetic field could potentially reverse itself in a shorter time frame than ever before thought possible. It has long been thought that our magnetic field flips every 450,000 years, however, a recent study has been published which concludes that the most recent flip only took 100 years.
Based off of data collected by the European Space Agency's satellite group known as 'Swarm,' a significant weakening of Earth's magnetic field has apparently been observed in just the past six months. The ESA reports that the areas experiencing the most weakening are in the Western hemisphere, with increases in field strength reported near the southern Indian Ocean.
EARTH'S MAGNETIC 'BUBBLE'
According to the ESA, we can think of the magnetic field surrounding our planet as a giant protective bubble that helps shield us from the harmful solar and cosmic radiation traveling through the reaches of space. Without this 'bubble,' life as we know it could not exist on the surface of the Earth.
Normally, a reversal in the Earth's magnetic field is thought to begin with a weakening of its strength, followed by a reversal in the poles and then a re-strengthening. And, as stated before, this typically occurs once every 450,000 years or so. So, what could cause such a rapid magnetic field shift? No one knows at this point. But a weakening magnetic field is not good for life on Earth.
A POTENTIALLY HARMFUL SITUATION
This situation could give rise to serious health concerns because the longer Earth's magnetic field remains in a weakened state, the more radiation can get through to the surface, and most radiation exposure to life--especially the intense radiation of space--is harmful.
Another potential problem posed by this situation is the effect additional radiation could have on our satellite technology. Without a strong magnetic field surrounding our planet, the satellites in orbit face stronger radiation and could potentially be damaged by it.
Also, with a weakened magnetic field, Earth would be susceptible to higher doses of radiation from solar storms and solar flares, which occur periodically and send huge amounts of solar radiation out into the surrounding solar system.
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