Science

Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, which could affect satellites and spacecraft, caution scientists

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on May 25, 2020 Published on May 25, 2020

The magnetic field of the Earth between Africa and South America is weakening, causing problems for satellites and spacecraft.

The phenomenon has been dubbed as the South Atlantic Anomaly by scientists, who’ve been studying the occurrence, which has grown considerably in recent years.

The data gathered by the European Space Agency’s swarm of satellites reveals that the area of the anomaly dropped in strength by over 8 per cent between 1970 and 2020.

"The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously," said Jürgen Matzka, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, as quoted by the Independent.

One of the possible explanations for this could be a shift in the Earth’s magnetic field, whereby the North Pole and the South Pole switch places as the field reverses.

This reversal last happened 7.8 lakh years ago, with scientists believing that a shift is long overdue. These reversals usually happen at an interval of 250,000 years.

If a reversal takes place, the repercussions could be significant and could cause major issues for telecommunications and satellite systems. Certain mobile phones and satellites may stop working.

The Earth's magnetic field also plays an important role in protecting the planet from solar winds and cosmic radiation that are harmful.

A study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018, however, said the planet’s magnetic field is not reversing despite the weakening field as the process of reversal could take tens of thousands of years.

The study also explained that the process is not an instantaneous one and could take tens of thousands of years to take place.

"The mystery of the origin of the South Atlantic Anomaly has yet to be solved," the ESA stated, as quoted by the Independent report.

Published on May 25, 2020
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