The Magnetic Sky Is Falling!
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor, 29 October 2012We take the stability of the earth for granted, as thousands of years go by without major upheaval, but we live in a planet that is vulnerable to bombardment and solar storms. And the earth itself generates physical forces that can potentially destroy human creation.
We are used to occasional big earthquakes, volcano eruptions, droughts, and destructive storms. But there are also global dangers. One possible catastrophe is the collapse of the earth’s magnetic field.
It has been known for the past decade that the earth’s magnetic field is diminishing. The field is 10 percent weaker than it was in 1845, when Carl Friedrich Gauss started to measure it. If this trend continues, the magnetic field will disappear, and then get restored with the poles in reverse. Compasses would point south instead of north.
This field reversal is science fact, as the field has reversed an average of every 250,000 years in the past. Million of years ago, this did not matter, other than confusing birds, bees, and other animals who use the field for navigation. But now a major weakening and reversal could wreak havoc with human-created electronics. A substantially weaker magnetic shield would let cosmic radiation enter and ruin satellites, power grids, computers, and electronic communications.
The earth’s magnetic field arises from its core of iron, which creates what geologists call a “geodynamo.” The inner core of the earth consists of a high-temperature iron inner core that heats a liquid outer core. Heat expands the liquid core, which first rises and then cools and sinks. This rise and fall creates an electric current and the magnetic field. The rotation of the earth curves the movements of the fluid, which twists the magnetic field.
Newly generated fields usually align with the existing field, but sometimes the varying forces make the new field align in the opposite orientation. A growing opposite field can weaken the prevailing field until they cancel out.
The magnetic field has enabled life to evolve, as it shields the surface of the earth and the ozone layer from particles and radiation that continuously invade the earth from space. Most geologists think that the last magnetic reversal occurred 800,000 years ago, so the earth is overdue for another magnetic field reversal. Some scientists now conclude that the weakening field could disappear as soon as about 500 years.
An examination of data from the exploration of rocks on mars indicates that the planet lost its magnetic field around 3.8 billion years ago. Solar radiation then eroded the atmosphere of mars, destroying any life that might have existed. Scientists and governments now understand the reality of the danger of a weakened magnetic sky, even if the chaos is rather far in the future. There are a hundred scientific stations that are monitoring the field. The European Space Agency will be launching satellites to better measure the field and the emissions of the sun. Also, lava flows from volcanos have provided a history of past field changes.
If the magnetic shield disappears, there will no longer be any protection against the full force of solar radiation. Life on earth would continue, but the technology that most of the world’s people depend on would become scrap metal. Billions of human beings would perish.
This possible catastrophe should put our human conflicts into perspective. What is the use of empire expansion and religious imperialism if everything will collapse in a few hundred years? The only survivors would be a few primal people still living in the jungles of South America. Huge resources are being used to defend ourselves against terror and war, when these would benefit humanity by protecting ourselves from the natural attacks of disease, cosmic invasions, and the turbulence of the earth. Human beings do not even care enough about the earth to stop the insidious pollution that is plundering the planet.
Even well-meaning people seek to impose superficial remedies such as government welfare and paternalistic restrictions rather than think about basic ethics, governance, and economics. The problem is that our institutions have evolved from a combination of inertia and conquest. From a cosmic perspective, our human messes such as huge government debts can be seen as comic tragedies that distract us from the greater coming cosmic perils.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2010 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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