Space is full of radiation. So much radiation, in fact, that the only thing standing between us and our planet being bathed in radioactive energy from the Sun is the Earth’s magnetic field. And this field plays a large part in protecting us from hazardous radiation. But what happens if the Earth’s magnetic field flips? Is it going to happen anytime soon? Here’s what we know.
First, the magnetic field here on Earth will flip. Eventually. Ofer Cohen, Associate Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Massachusetts, says that the flipping of the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t just a possibility, it’s inevitable.
As such, understanding and knowing what will happen if the Earth’s magnetic field flips is important for physicists. The bottom line here is that any flipping of the Earth’s magnetic field would change our planet’s climate exponentially. Not only would the level of ozone in the atmosphere change, but the entire magnetosphere, which protects us from solar energy, would change shape.
This could expose the planet to more radiation from the Sun and other cosmic objects. Essentially, it would be a bad thing. Now, we’re not sure exactly how much the climate would change — or whether it would spell the end of humanity as a whole or anything. But we do know that it isn’t going to happen overnight.
Exactly when the Earth’s magnetic field will flip is unknown. But, scientists have noted several changes in the location of the north and south magnetic poles. That means the shape of Earth’s magnetic field is changing, but it’s changing by increments, with the most recent changes seeing it move around 34 miles per year (16km to 54km).
Further, physicists like Cohen say that the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t going to flip overnight. This is something that reverses on a time scale between 100,000 and 1,000,000 years. So, we’ll likely see more warning signs before it happens. Whether that means we’ll be able to do anything about it is another thing altogether, though.
You can read more about Cohen’s thoughts on the entire subject, as well as learn more about the part the magnetic field plays here on our planet by checking out Cohen’s article on The Conversation.