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Earth's Magnetic Poles May Flip, And The Effects Could Be Deadly

The Earth's magnetic field is due for a flip and is showing signs of shifting at a rate of 5 percent every century. A full reversal could happen in 2,000 years, according to scientists.

It is usual for the north and south magnetic poles to flip over the course of the planet's history. For the past 20 million years, the pattern of pole reversals take place every 200,000 to 300,000 years. The last time a full reversal took place was approximately 780,000 years ago based on paleomagnetic research.

In between swaps, the poles sometimes attempt to flip and then go back to its original position.

The European Space Agency said the Earth's poles are preparing for a shift, and the impacts could be devastating.

What Are Magnetic Fields For?

We are aware of the north and south geographic poles of the Earth. There are two other poles looping out of them, known as the geomagnetic poles of the planet.

Magnetic fields originate from magnetic dipoles, which are swirling magnetic currents of molten iron located deep in the Earth's core. The fields extend more than 10 Earth radii, or 63.7 million meters, out into space on the side facing the Sun extending all the way to the Moon's orbit at 384.4 million meters on the opposite side.

"Most of the field is generated at depths greater than 3000 km by the movement of molten iron in the outer core. The remaining 6% is partly due to electrical currents in space surrounding Earth, and partly due to magnetised rocks in the upper lithosphere — the rigid outer part of Earth, consisting of the crust and upper mantle," according to ESA.

Magnetic fields protect the planet from high levels of charged particles and solar and cosmic radiation.

For example, ultraviolet rays from the ozone layer and solar rays from the Sun do not hit us directly because the Earth's magnetic fields deflect them and forces them to move around.

Pole Shifting

Depending on how the magnetic poles gain or lose strength over time, a shift is always due to happen.

Based on information and satellite imageries from ESA's Swarm Trio, the north magnetic pole indicates turbulence and unpredictability.

In 2014, Swarm satellites started monitoring the most difficult layers of Earth's magnetic fields.

In the last 50 years, the North magnetic pole has shifted, causing charged particles from the Sun and interstellar space to damage the satellites orbiting right above the South Atlantic.

Devastating Effects

While a full pole switch is not due anytime soon in this lifetime, the possibility of its occurrence could lead to devastating results and can even render parts of the planet inhabitable.

When the poles flip or at least try to flip, the protective shields are weakened by at least ten times its normal protective capability. When this happens, increased levels of radiation will reach the surface of the Earth.

Charged particles can also interfere with satellites, aviation, and ground-based electrical infrastructure. A weakened magnetic field would also likely impact orbiting satellites.

The switching process can also expose the entire planet to radiation for centuries. Scientists have tried to link previous pole shifts to the mass extinctions of species on Earth.

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