Earth’s protective magnetic field has been weakening at a faster rate than expected, according to data from newly launched European Space Agency satellites. The finding may indicate that Earth’s poles will switch sooner than scientists thought.
Because of the iron core at the Earth’s center, the planet produces a magnetic field that extends 370,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, according to LiveScience. (For comparison, the International Space Station orbits less than 300 miles above the planet.) This field protects the planet from radiation from the sun and space, and is the reason why magnetic north exists.
Studies on deep ocean cores have revealed that, on average, the poles reverse once every 200,000 to 300,000 years, according to NASA. It’s been about 780,000 years since the last flip.
It was previously thought that the field was weakening by about 5 percent each century, LiveScience reports, pointing to a flip in about 2,000 years. But the new data shows a much more dramatic weakening, at a pace of 5 percent per decade — 10 times faster than previously thought.
The new data come from a trio of satellites collectively known as Swarm, launched by the ESA in November. The measurements show a dramatic weakening over the Western hemisphere, with some strengthening in other areas, like the southern Indian Ocean, according to a release.
The observations confirm that magnetic north is moving southward, toward Siberia, according to the release.
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SOURCE: The Weather Channel