New Study Says the Science Surrounding Earth's Magnetic Field Flip Is Flawed
The disillusionment of finding out that the North Pole is not the same as magnetic north is on par with learning that there is no "dark side" of the Moon.
It turns out the Earth's magnetic field is much more complicated and frightening than most people realize—for example, there's been a persistent anomaly drifting around the Earth (usually called the South Atlantic Anomaly) where the planet's magnetic field is inexplicably getting weaker.
More recently, though, scientists have been dealing with fears that we're in the lead-up to a full-scale magnetic reversal (in which the magnetic poles reverse) or even an episode of global weakening (where the Earth's magnetic field becomes too weak to keep us safe from the Sun's harmful solar radiation).
Fortunately, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helpfully titled "Earth's magnetic field is probably not reversing," assures the world that the poles are probably not about to flip, and that the world's magnetic field, which has been growing weaker by a rate of around 5 percent per century, is probably going to recover.
The study is based on research of two similar periods in Earth's history, one from 41,000 years ago and one from 34,000 years ago, that showed similar symptoms of an impending magnetic reversal—portions of the Earth's field seemed to become flipped, but not the whole planet, a phenomenon called an "excursion" that usually ends up with the field going back to its original state.
This is what the researchers think is happening to Earth's field as a whole right now—a centuries-long excursion that will most likely correct itself.
Still, there are doubts that the previous episodes are good analogs for what's happening now, and whether we can use them to predict what's in store for the future.
In any case, we don't need to worry too much about the coming centuries, according to geophysicist John Tarduno of the University of Rochester: "Even at the most outrageous scenarios, this is not going to happen until more than a thousand years into the future."