As Earth’s magnetic shield starts failing, so do our satellites.
First, our communications satellites in the highest orbits begin malfunctioning and eventually crash and burn.
Next, astronauts in low-Earth orbit can no communicate with Earth.
Finally, cosmic rays begin bombarding every human on Earth.
And worryingly, this may happen not in the next million, thousands but in the next hundred years.
Scientists warn that if Earth’s magnetic field were to decay significantly, it could cause its collapse and flip our planet’s polarity, changing magnetic north to south and vice-versa.
The consequences of such a phenomenon could be catastrophic.
“The geomagnetic field has been decaying for the last 3,000 years,” explained Dr. Nicolas Thouveny from the European Centre for Research and Teaching of Environmental Geosciences (CEREGE) in Aix-en-Provence, France.
“If it continues to fall down at this rate, in less than one millennium we will be in a critical (period).”
In the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa, there is a vast region of the Earth’s magnetic field that is approximately three times weaker than the intensity of this field at the poles.
Scientists call this area the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) and it’s an area that has been studied over the past few decades.
The area is also the focus of studies of the CoreSat project, led by Professor Chris Finlay from the Technical University of Denmark.
Thanks to scientific data gathered by different satellites, including the European Space Agency’s (ESA) three Swarm satellites launched in 2013, this project is trying to finally find out what is causing the SAA.
Understanding what causes it is important.
“This is a region where we see that satellites consistently (experience) electronic failures,” explained Professor Finlay.
“And we don’t understand where this weak field region is coming from, what’s producing it, and how it might change in the future.”
The South Atlantic Anomaly was first spotted in the 1950s and has since decreased in strength by around 6%. During this time, it has also moved closer to the west.
“(There) hasn’t really been any convincing explanation of it,” added professor Finlay, explaining that scientists haven’t been able to predict how it’s going to alter.
But scientists now hope that the CoreSat project will shed light and help scientists understand this phenomenon more clearly. Using fresh data, scientists aim to study the properties of the magnetic field and how it shifts over time.
By studying the SAA, scientists are hoping to understand what’s going on inside our planet’s core that might be causing it.
One possibility, say, experts, is the presence of massive anticyclone located the southern portion of Earth’s liquid metal outer core. This could be pushing away the magnetic field from the South Atlantic.
However, another option is that the magnetic field in this area is already pointing the wrong way and that there’s a mini-polarity reversal taking place.
th Atlantic Anomaly teaches us how bad a weakened magnetic field is for us and our way of technological life. So far, a number of spacecraft flying over the South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly have reported system failures as they are bombarded by more cosmic rays.
So far, it remains unclear whether or not the SAA is related to the Earth Magnetic Field flipping its polarity, which is something scientists with the CoreSat project hope to investigate.
‘In some simulations, you see features like the SAA growing during a pole reversal,’ he said. ‘It’s not necessarily the case, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if something like this was involved in a magnetic reversal,”explainedd professor Finlay.