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There is an invisible force protecting us, keeping our atmosphere in place. Without it, life on Earth would be over very quickly. I’ll play with the music or a dramitic soundup to ramp up the drama. It would be harsh and fatal, pure chaos. Would there be any chance of surviving such a catastrophe?
How does the Earth’s magnetic field protect us? How is this magnetic field created? Could we survive if it disappeared?
The Earth’s magnetic field protects us by deflecting much of the incoming solar radiation. Without it, our atmosphere would be stripped by solar winds. We’d be bombarded with vast amounts of radiation. Life as we know it would be over. This would force us underground, living out the rest of our days in concrete bunkers.
But how is this important magnetic field even created?
Earth has a solid inner iron core and a temperature of 5,700°C (10,300°F). The surrounding core is a cooler liquid, mainly consisting of iron and nickel. Differences in temperature, pressure, and composition cause the hot, less dense material to rise toward the outer core.
Simultaneously, the cooler, denser material falls back down to its solid core. The high pressure of the Earth prevents it from becoming a sphere of liquid.
At the same time, the Earth’s rotation creates the Coriolis effect, which produces whirlpools in the liquid iron. This generates electric currents that in turn produce magnetic fields. As the electrically charged metals in the liquid core pass through these fields, they create their own electric currents. This never ending cycle allows us to continue with our shielded, earthly existence.
So what would happen if Earth’s magnetic field just disappeared? Could we survive? Well, brace yourself.
Imagine, it starts with Electromagnetic interference (EMI), or radio-frequency interference (RFI). Your TV cuts out. Birds begin to act strangely, dropping from the sky, flying into windows. By the way, no birds were injured in the making of this video. Airplanes lose power and begin to plummet, while others are making dramatic landings.
Electricity is compromised, with blackouts all over the world. And now there you are, sitting in the dark, staring at the sky. Suddenly, auroras appear in places never before seen, at lower altitudes and close to the equator. Solar winds are bombarding the atmosphere.
As the pressure decreases, you will find it hard to breathe. The temperature will start to drop. Atmospheric gases that keep the planet stable are ripped away. The low atmospheric pressure will cause water to vaporize and eventually disappear.
So here you are on a planet with no atmosphere or water. Radiation starts to penetrate your body. If you live long enough, you might develop cancer.
But for now, you have the symptoms of acute radiation sickness. You feel faint and confused, nauseous, and you start bleeding from your gums. The last thing you see are satellites tumbling wildly through the sky in a nightmarish display. Death would be a welcome escape from this global madness.
Okay, inhale a big yogic breath and exhale your anxiety, since this is likely an impossible scenario. The Earth’s magnetic field is always constantly changing. It has weakened by about 3.5% at high latitudes over North America, while it has strengthened about 2% over Asia.
And between South America and Africa, there’s an area called the South Atlantic Anomaly, where scientists find the weakest magnetic field anywhere on Earth. Three times weaker than at the poles. Nobody knows what is causing this oddity, nor why the Earth’s magnetic field has mysteriously lost 30% of its intensity in the last 3,000 years.
Catastrophic events caused by the magnetic field suddenly disappearing are likely not in our future. The closest we could come is having the Earth’s magnetic fields flip, in a gradual way. This happens an average of once every 200,000 years. Although the last flip occurred about 780,000 years ago, so we are definitely overdue.
Now that you watched the episode and read the article, it is time to test your knowledge. Click “next” to see how much you learnt:
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- “Magnetic Field of the Earth”. 2020. hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.adu.
- “Earth’S Magnetic Heartbeat”. 2020. esa.int.
- “What If Earth’s Magnetic Field Disappeared? “. Stephanie Pappas, Contributor, Stephanie. 2019. livescience.com.
- “How Vital Is a Planet’s Magnetic Field? New Debate Rises”. Schirber, Michael. 2011. space.com.
- “6 Horrible Consequences Of Earth Losing Its Magnetic Field”. 2015. Futurism.
- “Earth’s Magnetosphere | NOAA / NWS Space Weather Prediction Center”. 2020. swpc.noaa.gov.