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Science

Magnetic Poles May Be About To Flip 721

Posted by timothy
from the still-time-to-buy-ammo dept.
AGD writes "According to the Guardian, Earth's magnetic field - the force that protects us from deadly radiation bursts from outer space - is weakening dramatically. . The article goes on to say 'Earth's magnetic field has disappeared many times before -- as a prelude to our magnetic poles flipping over, when north becomes south and vice versa.'"
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Magnetic Poles May Be About To Flip

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  • by SexyKellyOsbourne (606860) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:33AM (#4636289) Journal
    The date for the flip will be 5/5/2005, according to Sightings.
    • 'Could be in the next 1000 years', according to the article...

      A little less concerning :-)

      • by BubbaHokey (606961) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:30AM (#4636664) Homepage
        The article actually says "could disappear over the next 1,000 years" This could be interperted as it will disappear and be gone for the next 1,000 years OR as it will slowly dissapate over the next 1,000 years. After reading the article the quotes "...show some can last for thousands of years" and "... have lasted only a few weeks" lead me to believe that they believe that IT could happen any time and last 1,000 years with no protection. I wonder how my great childern will look as morlocks?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 10, 2002 @01:42PM (#4637417)
        Just bear with me for a minute...this will sound totally stupid:

        The shift in the magnetic fields is being artifically sped up by a secret operation by the united states government. They are forcing the shift through an artificial process being carried out in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. I do not know the technical details, but they are using some type of equipment to send waves into the core of the earth.

        This is not some joke or troll post. Clearly you don't believe me, partially because I am posting as AC and for the fact that it sounds totally outrageous, and I clearly will be modded down. But I am posting this anyway so that history will show that someone did know about this while it was happenning.

    • nope (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tanveer1979 (530624) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:41AM (#4636315) Homepage Journal
      There can be no particular date.
      The change will be gradual, with about a thousand years of no field. But I wont worry about it. There is no precedent of extinction due to pole reversal.
      If primitive beings could survive so can we. There must be some mechanism by which the earth wards of the effects. Maybe some thing in ionosphere. It kind of difficult to beleive that something which couldnt make anything extinct 250000 years ago will do it now on a species which spends most of its life under radiation shields(read buildings)
      • Re:nope (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nick-less (307628) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:53AM (#4636341)
        If primitive beings could survive so can we.

        you mean "we, the people living in industrial countries"?

        • Re:nope (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Yorrike (322502)
          We sure as hell weren't living in industrial countires 1 million years ago. I'm sure we'll notice ths, but I doubt there'll be any mass extinction (of course, I am making assumptions here).

          I'm as worried about this as I am about the sun exploding. It's not likely to happen in my life, so I'll leave the problem to the /. crowd of the future to solve.

          • Re:nope (Score:3, Interesting)

            by sql*kitten (1359)
            We sure as hell weren't living in industrial countires 1 million years ago. I'm sure we'll notice ths, but I doubt there'll be any mass extinction (of course, I am making assumptions here).

            That makes extinction more likely, not less. A modern society cannot revert to a pre-industrial state without 90% or more of its population dying in the process... subsistence farming simply can't support a population that grew on mechanized industrial farming. Not only that but most of the people won't have farming skills or tools, and there will be a sizeable minority who decide to just take by force rather than farm, which has a net result of reducing the chances of survival for everyone. Modern medicine and hygiene also means that our immune systems will have lost some of its capability.

            If there is a cataclysm, any human survivors will probably be the natives of the Brazilian rainforests, if there are any left by then. How ironic that they can't survive the encroachment of modern civilization but could survive something that a modern civilization couldn't.
      • Re:nope (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bjwest (14070)
        Who knows what effect this will have on our electronic dependent society. Computers are so intergrated with our way of life, I doubt we'd all survive just the loss of them.
      • Re:nope (Score:3, Informative)

        I'm not particularly worried about it, but I really do not want to be here when it happens. The earth's magnetic field (ie the magnetosphere, see here [nasa.gov] and here [nasa.gov]) has a vital role in keeping tremendous amounts of radiation (least of all from our own sun) away from the planet. Buildings make pretty lousy radiation shields, the average building wouldn't keep you safe from the radiation from the fallout from a nuclear weapon, let alone the massive amounts of radiation which would pour onto the earth without the magnetosphere. Even without the direct effects of the radiation on life-forms (massive deaths, sterility, mutations etc), it would be pretty tough to survive once the solar wind had stripped the atmosphere away from this rock we sit on.
        • Re:nope (Score:5, Funny)

          by Shanep (68243) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:30AM (#4636541) Homepage
          the average building wouldn't keep you safe from the radiation from the fallout from a nuclear weapon, let alone the massive amounts of radiation which would pour onto the earth without the magnetosphere. Even without the direct effects of the radiation on life-forms (massive deaths, sterility, mutations etc), it would be pretty tough to survive once the solar wind had stripped the atmosphere away from this rock we sit on.

          Wow, what a fun loving, happy go lucky guy you are!

          Do you work for NASA's PR dept? ; )

      • by SexyKellyOsbourne (606860) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:00AM (#4636474) Journal
        According to Sightings, it was to happen immediately due to something with planetary alignments -- though I know the last one was May 5, 2000 -- or some other cosmic phenomenon which would immediately accelerate the polar flip drastically.

        I really miss that show, though they still play re-runs. I used to sit in front of the TV with a tinfoil hat on.
    • by pezpunk (205653) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @12:47PM (#4637153) Homepage
      this seriously stinks of hollywood making up news as a blockbuster is about to be released. they did it before with all those asteroid movies and then again with all those mars movies a few years ago.

      from the article:
      Paramount's latest sci-fi thriller, The Core - directed by Englishman Jon Amiel, and starring Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart - depicts a world beset by just such a polar reversal, with radiation sweeping the planet.

      wtf??
  • Hrmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by acehole (174372) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:39AM (#4636306) Homepage
    How is santa going to navigate under those conditions?

    perhaps he better upgrade rudolph.

  • by humming (24596) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:39AM (#4636310)
    And here is the link: Poles are about to shift [newscientist.com]
  • Wildebeest (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:43AM (#4636318)
    In addition, many species of migrating animals and birds - from swallows to wildebeests - rely on innate abilities to track Earth's magnetic field. Their fates are impossible to gauge.

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Could this be the end of the GNU project?!
  • by ensignyu (417022) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:44AM (#4636323)
    I'm wondering: how did life survive the other dozens of other times the pole flipped?

    What can humans do, besides burrowing or mutating?

    Suddenly, global warming (the artificially-induced kind) doesn't seem like that big of a long-term threat.
    • by phaze3000 (204500) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:36AM (#4636428) Homepage
      Suddenly, global warming (the artificially-induced kind) doesn't seem like that big of a long-term threat.

      Except that the magnetic pole shift is likely to happen sometime in the next 1000 years or so. Global warming has the potential to wipe out humans prior to this time.

    • by mokeyboy (585139) <mark.keir@gmail.com> on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:54AM (#4636463)
      On global warming - much of the evidence is related to the melting of the polar icecaps. If the magnetic fields at the poles have been decreasing over the last 20 years, how much of the melt is due to more energetic radiation sliding down the field (weaker field, bigger V at the pole and greater cross-section of absorption for the energetic particles to penetrate). From memory, I believe that sat surveys of metropolitan areas have shown a decrease of 0.5 degrees in the same period (ground data is polluted by greater ambient temperature from concrete structures, bitumen etc) and its really the pole data that underpins much of the theory. Its not going to be fun when the poles do drift - we could end up with multiple pole pairs with high latitude magnetic effects in current mid-latitude areas. The auroras will be pretty but the disruption to HF radio is going to mean a much greater need for landline communications.
    • by El Camino SS (264212) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @01:21PM (#4637318)


      "You Global Warmer Nutties. I'll stick with our energy company President and his opinions, after all, he's been good so far. Where is the evidence that the world is warming up because of mankind!?! SHOW ME!"

      "AIIIIEEEEE!!!" (SUDDENLY CRUSHED UNDER TONS OF RESEARCH PAPERWORK GETTING DROPPED DIRECTLY ON TOP OF HIM)

  • by humming (24596) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:45AM (#4636325)
    The sun does this every 11 years.

    Sun does a flip [nasa.gov]. You can also follow the link there to [nasa.gov]
    Earths magnetic reversal

  • by farfisa69 (526335) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:45AM (#4636330) Homepage
    Australia will become on top of the world and no longer the "arse end of the world". We rule!
    • by sg_oneill (159032) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:41AM (#4636440)
      Tell it as it is brother! Finally we'll get to condescendingly refer to Europeans and Americans as "down under".

      Oh how I wait for such things.
    • by inode_buddha (576844) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:09AM (#4636497) Journal
      I've always wanted to see my toilet flush in the opposite direction.
      • by Raiford (599622) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @02:43PM (#4637695) Journal
        I made it through the last pole reversal with no problem. I covered myself with lodestones and always slept in an east-west orientation.

  • Climatic disturbance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stefanvt (75684) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:46AM (#4636332)
    The effects could be catastrophic. Powerful radiation bursts, which normally never touch the atmosphere, would heat up its upper layers, triggering climatic disruption.
    Seeing as the climate has been changing rapidly in the last hundred years. Could it also be a result of the declining magnetic field?
  • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:52AM (#4636340) Homepage
    I'm fed up with these xenophobic jokes about those crazy Poles and how they are always 'about to flip'.
  • by Loki_1929 (550940) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @07:55AM (#4636344) Journal
    1. Buy 10,000 compasses
    2. Scratch out N, S, E, W
    3. Replace with (in same order) S, N, W, E
    4. Sell on eBay
    5. Profit!!!

  • Get real! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fyz (581804) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:01AM (#4636354)
    First off: we are not all gonna die. It has been 800,000 years since the last time the poles flipped. At that time, our ancestors were walking around, munching on wooly mammoths an giant sloths, etc., armed with such amazing modern tech as sharpened flint and fire. If they can take it, so can we.

    Second, we have very little knowledge about how the poles are going to switch. There seems to be two options:
    1. The poles are going to disappear, then reappear on opposite sides of the planet.
    2. The poles will migrate over the face of the earth until they have effectively flipped over.

    However, as geophysics usually shows us, there is a third, and much more complicated option, that is more likely. Simply put, the poles will weaken, and then split up into smaller magnetic zones, which will then wander all over the surface in an extremely complicated manner, and then coalesce on the oppposite sides. If you think this is a crackpot idea, you should check out past issues of Nature.
    I'll also point out that no one really knows how the planet's magnetic field is generated. It is DEFINATELY not analogous to a regular bar magnet, because the core of the earth is much too hot to sustain magnetization of iron.
    • Re:Get real! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Space cowboy (13680) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:24AM (#4636404) Journal
      In many respects, a simpler culture is far more resilient than a complex one. Increasing the complexity is a bit like walking up a mountain - the safe area to walk on gets smaller the higher you go up. Consider the magnetic flip to be a huge hand reaching down and translocating you a distance horizontally... would you prefer to be higher up the mountain (wheeeeee.....ouch) or farther down ?

      In (slightly) more scientific terms, the advances we've made since those cavemen times are built on the premise of incremental change - we talk of "advances", ie: building on the past to get farther. Take away the foundations (communications is the major one, I guess, direction finding, etc.) and see how well everything that depends on them copes. Consider how an economy might react to (for example: the collapse of air traffic), and the subsequent secondary effects. None of this was even slightly worrying to the caveman, but our world is immensely dependent on excellent long-distance communications.

      Yes, we have a far and away more complex civilisation than a caveman ever dreamed of. This is a weakness, not a strength. The payoff comes from what we can do with that technology, but if you remove that, you end up with a lot of hungry people in a small space...

      I concur with the physics, btw, but you're really overestimating the resilience of our civilisation.

      Simon.
      • Re:Get real! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by div_2n (525075) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:39AM (#4636436)
        Direction finding is becoming more and more based on GPS than anything. GPS has nothing to do with the magnetic field. It disappearing wouldn't cause it to fail at all.

        The same goes for communications with the exception of possible solar flare interference periodically.

        It seems to me that while the pole disappearing/changing could cause significant change it isn't a showstopper for much of anything except the use of all current compasses and perhaps sunbathing.
        • Re:Get real! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by elvum (9344) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:06AM (#4636489) Journal

          Direction finding is becoming more and more based on GPS than anything. GPS has nothing to do with the magnetic field. It disappearing wouldn't cause it to fail at all

          It's the earth's magnetic field that diverts the solar wind away from us. Without it, the GPS satellites would almost certainly be destroyed by the increase in ionising particle flux. Along with all the communications satellites.

          • Re:Get real! (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dattaway (3088)
            Isn't the magnetic field also responsible for protecting us from cosmic radiation?
            • Re:Get real! (Score:3, Informative)

              by scharkalvin (72228)
              The atmosphere provides most of our protection from cosmic rays. The magnetic field does NOT protect at all over the poles which may explain the ozone holes the pop up from time to time. Yet there is little more cosmic radiation on the ground over the poles then anywhere else.
          • Re:Get real! (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:56AM (#4636730) Homepage
            It still doesnt matter GPS navigation is for convience only. anyone needing to do absolute navigation still has several other forms that do not rely on any electronic device and one super accurate navigation system that doesnt care if the poles are north/south or even southwest and northeast. A sextant is a great device that can only be thwarted by stopping the rotation of the planet.

            if anyone thinks that modern civilization will instantly collapse by the loss of GPS.... ther are the same morons that believed that Y2K was something to actually worry about.
      • Re:Get real! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Fyz (581804) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:43AM (#4636445)
        Of course, this will all be complete speculation, since our civilization has never actually been put to "the test".
        Cavemen were subject to any number of extinction threats that we don't really worry much about in our society. We aren't really worried about regional drought, flooding, forest fires, disease, predators, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc. Maybe worried is not the right word, but we don't face extinction because of these things. Also, the rise of technology has put us in a place where we have a chance of survival in places undreamed of by cavemen.
        It's true what you say about a lot of hungry people in a small space, but in situations like that, a given population will max out at some saturation point where death- and birthrates even out.
        Anyway, I wasn't really talking about our civilization's survival chance, just that "THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END!" is paranoia, since it 's happened about 2000 times since our prehistorical ancestors crawled from the ocean.
        • Re:Get real! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by aminorex (141494) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @03:58PM (#4638058) Homepage Journal
          > "THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END!" is paranoia

          When you die, this world ends. Get real.
          Denying your own immanent death is a far less
          survivable delusion than the paranoia with which
          you smear your rhetorical opponents.

          Now in fact people live in the arctic where
          the field lines converge, so the notion that
          a collapse of the magnetic field would not
          be survivable is prima facie absurd, but that
          doesn't mean that *you* won't get killed by a
          cyclone that results from ionospheric overheating.
      • Re:Get real! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Idarubicin (579475) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (teiuqslla)> on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:09AM (#4636496) Journal
        I concur with the physics, btw, but you're really overestimating the resilience of our civilisation.

        For the record, I often think it a stretch to describe this mess as a 'civilization' anyway. But to address your point--I think that the problems caused by this occurrance will be alleviated somewhat by it's relatively slow onset. Sure, the poles flipping is a very rapid thing on geologic timescales, but we're still talking decades or more.

        Communications won't collapse--most long-haul lines are based around fibre now, which is essentially impervious to solar radiation. Satellites infrastructure might take a bit of a hit, but I don't see the iminent collapse of the GPS system. (Since the U.S. military really can't do without it, they'll find a way to keep it working. Kind of a hand-waving argument, but you can bet your ass that they'll get whatever appropriations they want from Congress.) Retaining GPS and transoceanic fibre will mean that international finance and trade will be pretty much unaffected.

        Climate change is a different beast altogether. Nobody knows exactly what form it will take, if it happens at all. The world already overproduces food--we just don't distribute it very well. I suspect that we will see exactly what we've seen for most of this century--the developed world will survive in relative comfort, while Third World nations willl starve.

        As to health effects--again, a big question mark. It depends on dose of solar radiation, but I'm heartened by the fact that these flips have happened fairly frequently without being accompanied by mass extinctions. Cancer rates will go up somewhat. Wealthy nations will probably develop preventive medicines to cut down on the effect.

        In short, day to day life probably won't be seriously affected for most people. We'll get some weird weather, and have to develop some interesting technological solutions in some areas, and--oh, yes--low lying cities may have to build dikes or be evacuated. But that's about it. Not the end of civilizaiton.

        Alternately, I advocate giving every person on earth a little bar magnet to carry around, along with detailed instructions as to how it ought to be oriented to maintain an artificial planetary magnetic field.

        • Re:Get real! (Score:3, Interesting)

          by deglr6328 (150198)
          "Communications won't collapse--most long-haul lines are based around fibre now, which is essentially impervious to solar radiation."

          It does not matter that the information itself is carried on light inside of fibers of glass. The signals inside the fiber can only travel ~100Km at the most before they need to be boosted again by an amplifier. This is done by doping a small section of the fiber with Erbium atoms and esentially making it lase(stimulated emission) by irradiating it with intense light from semiconductor lasers. There are common CONDUCTIVE cables cladding the main fiber line in a fiber optic cable that supply the amplifiers that are spread out all along the line with power to run. What happenes when huge lengths of conductive cable are immersed in a (potentially quickly) changing magnetic field? Thats right, gigantic currents are set up in the cable and can destroy [spaceweather.gc.ca] any sensitive devices connected to it. Thereby rendering the fiber dark.
    • by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:58AM (#4636602)
      I'll also point out that no one really knows how the planet's magnetic field is generated.

      Sure we do. It's from dynamo currents caused by convection in the (liquid) outer core.

      Magnetic field flips happen when turbulence grows enough to disrupt these patterns briefly.

      This is why Jupiter has a much stronger magnetic field than Earth (huge liquid metallic hydrogen layer, and a very powerful internal heat source), and why the moon has almost no magnetic field (no liquid core; the only field is the one that was "frozen in" when the moon first cooled).
    • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @11:03AM (#4636757)
      "First off: we are not all gonna die."

      I'm pretty sure we are, just not from magnetic pole shifting.

  • by jedigeek (102443) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:05AM (#4636363) Journal
    I've heard the pole switching theory linked with the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012.

    Although, it could just be that the people who came
    up with this couldn't think of any other reasons the world might end.

    See An End of Days [artideas.com]
    • by Cl1mh4224rd (265427) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:20AM (#4636527)
      I'm willing to bet the Mayans finally said "Fuck this" after manually generating a calendar for so long... You would, too, wouldn't you?
    • The Mayan calendar doesn't end, it's cyclical just like ours. The ONLY difference is that they had a far longer cultural perspective than ours, so where our calendar "ends" every 31 December (or in the spring, before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar), their calendar runs for hundreds of years before repeating. With such a long window you rarely need to specify a cycle count since you almost always refer to the current cycle.

      That said, it is true that the next cycle was supposed to be different from the old one, but that's hardly unusual or predictive. Look at our own culture's fascination with "in the year 2000" and "in the 21st Century," or even the selection of the year 1984 in a book written in 1948. It's close enough to be scary, but far away enough that it isn't overwheming.

  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:07AM (#4636368) Homepage
    all the iron ore removed from the Earth to make SUV's - it always does, by some twisted quirk of logic, involve a major corporate conspiracy by a vast multinational like ShellOil or something employing millions of otherwise homeless people. Lord knows we need lots more homeless so that has-been celebrities and pseudo-geoscientists can jumpstart their flagging media careers amongst the bored teenager demographic.

  • Hollywood? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tcdk (173945) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:12AM (#4636376) Homepage Journal
    Is just me or did that article turn a bit surreal when hollywood was dragged in to it?

    A hand full of paragraphs on what may possible the End of Civilisation as We Know it (tm), ending in a halfway upbeat solution presented in a hollywood movie.

    My first thought as that this simple was a planted story to sell the movie.
  • Sound familiar? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:48AM (#4636457) Homepage

    Breaking news! Scientists predict imminent destruction of humanity! Film at 11.

    It occurs to me that major movie studios have a lot of media contacts and experience in influencing the stories that go down the wire. I'm not saying that there isn't good science behind this, just that perhaps the news media are being encouraged to run the angle that grabs reader's attention rather than present a balanced view. Remember that New Scientist isn't "not for profit", it's a commercial venture.

  • Rubbish (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FrostedWheat (172733) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:54AM (#4636464)
    ... Dr Paul Murdin, of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. 'On Mars, when its magnetic field failed permanently billions of years ago, it led to its atmosphere being boiled off.'

    Whoa .. steady on there Dr.Murdin! That's quite a brave thing to say as if it's a fact. That's just on theory, and an interesting one to, but you cannot prove this yet. I'm sure there are lots of other reasons why Mars atmosphere is the way it is now.

    'On Earth, it will heat up the upper atmosphere and send ripples round the world with enormous, unpredictable effects on the climate.'

    Arh! I think it will make some lovely daytime aurora, and generally play havoc with electrical equipment.

    Mars is exposed to this kind of solar radiation, but it's atmosphere stays fairly chilly! The only solar radiation that seems to affect its temperature is the infra-red kind.

    I'm willing to bet this article is nothing more than pre-hype for the movie The Core.
  • by qwijibrumm (559350) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @08:59AM (#4636473)
    Insert joke about tinfoil hat here
  • by drew (2081) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:12AM (#4636508) Homepage
    be sure to use only two data points.

    according to another article that somebody else linked above, (here) [newscientist.com] this conclusion isn't based on an ongoing survey of the earth's magnetic field over the last 20 years (as implied by the observer article), but rather on the comparison of current data to a single set of data taken 20 years ago:

    But Ørsted is the first satellite to take a snapshot of the Earth's magnetic field for 20 years, and such scant data makes it difficult to predict future shifts.

    so while this may make a great shock news story (or hollywood movie plot) it hardly seems like anything approaching significant scientific research worth getting particularly alarmed about.
  • by Allen Varney (449382) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:13AM (#4636513) Homepage

    [TROLL]

    Vote a Republican administration into power, and the next thing you know, the magnetic field is gone.

    [/TROLL]

  • It's not all bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by p3d0 (42270) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:24AM (#4636533)
    On the bright side, if the poles flip, Earth's north pole will actually be a magnetic north.
  • by danalien (545655) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @09:24AM (#4636534) Homepage
    Can this explain it?:

    "A planet's magnetosphere is provided through its magnetic field. To create a magnetic field, a planet or moon must have magnetic material such has iron, which is warm enough to move around to form currents within the planet."

    And isn't earth(s core) cooling down? - Can't this affect our magnetosphere? If the magnetic materail stop flowing?


    My imaginary plot (IMHO):

    Now I'm thinging that when earth switched poles, the core coold down, reversal happened, sometime after that earth got hit by a large enough meteor to restart our core (how elese could the core be restarted? there wasn't atomic weapons and the like back in those days, no! Good ol' fashion meteors had to suffice : )). Then earth keept it's (reverse) position till it coold down again, and re-reversed itself again. Sometime after, BAda'BOOM eine large enough meteor struck again, restarted our engine, and we keept on ticking.... untill soon enough (if we think 1000 year or more is soon..) when our core will stop flowing.

    Can someone please look up how long ago earth was struck by a large enough meteor to turn earth in to a giant blob of lava? : )
    I put my money on lets say 780 000 to one millon years ago :) (when the last revelsal was presumed to have happened.)


    Earth cooling down:

    Here's the tricky part; How much must the earth's core cool down for reversal to happen? Because for it to cool down entirilely it will take more than 1000 years.


    Reference:
    http://www.seismo.unr.edu/ftp/pub/louie/class/100/ interior.html [unr.edu]
    http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/earth/moon/ moon_magnetic_field.html&edu=high [ucar.edu]
    http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/physical_sc ience/magnetism/magnetic_materials.html&edu=hi gh [ucar.edu]
    http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns999 92152 [newscientist.com]
    http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,69 03,837058,00.html [observer.co.uk]
  • Four words (Score:3, Funny)

    by robian (518716) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:01AM (#4636604)
    Beam me up, Scottie.

  • by Christopher Thomas (11717) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:19AM (#4636638)
    For a lark, I did the calculations for artificially imposing a magnetic field if the Earth ever lost its own.

    It turns out to be feasible even today, though horribly, horribly expensive. You'd build a mesh of copper cables around the equator (or superconducting, but copper's losses aren't that bad for this). Then you'd slowly ramp up the current until you have a magnetic field comparable in strength to today's.

    Ramping up would be slow because of inductive power storage. The current loop and associated magnetic field store a *vast* amount of energy, all of which needs to be provided in order to bring the field up to strength. The present power output of all electrical plants on the planet over a decade or so would do it, if I remember correctly, so this is feasible. The power cost to maintain the field, even with copper cables, is much lower; put, say, a 10% tax on electricity, and you've paid for the extra plants to feed the mesh.

    You'd use a mesh instead of a single cable _because_ of the amount of stored energy. If you break the current path of an inductor, current flows anyways, arcing across the gap. This only dies down as resistive losses across the gap dissipate the power stored in the inductor. Think about this - all of the inductor's stored power is dissipated in one place (the break), and we're storing an awfully large amount of power in this current loop. If the loop was a single cable and this cable was broken, you'd get something in the range of a 10-gigaton yield at the point of breakage. A mesh provides many alternate current paths, so breaks from sabotage or just plain wear can be repaired safely (as long as you overspec the current rating enough to allow the other paths to safely take up the load).

    A copper cable a hundred metres wide, or ten thousand one-metre cables, would do the trick. You might _have_ to use copper, too; even if you spread the cables out to make a more uniform field near the Earth's surface, field strength near each wire would be much greater than the breakdown point of most superconductors.

    We'd probably never bother doing this, but it's a fun thought experiment :).
  • by grendelkhan (168481) <scottricketts@ g m a i l .com> on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:36AM (#4636674) Journal

    Back in the Claremont/Byrne/Austin days, we survived that, we'll survive this.

  • by loz (64114) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @10:43AM (#4636686) Homepage
    http://istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/earthmag/magnQ&A1.htm#q6 [nasa.gov]

    with the Holywood garbage left out.

    loz

  • by MicroBerto (91055) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @11:12AM (#4636791)
    Read #6 on this article [discover.com]... An all-around cool article, even if maybe a switch doesn't do anything too harmful

    This kinda freaks me out though..

  • by Aquitaine (102097) <sam@ i a m s a m . o rg> on Sunday November 10, 2002 @11:35AM (#4636862) Homepage
    Synopsis:

    EARTH IS DOOMED!

    Solution:

    President (played by Morgan Freeman) meets with Special Emergency Response Team, discovers that all primary systems designed to prevent the Destruction of Earth are useless because they were all designed to shoot down missiles from Korea and China. Cabinet advisor recalls a brilliant, 'loose cannon' scientist/oil rig captain/handsome hollywood actor who 'just might be able to save us.'

    Handsome actor collects racially-diverse crew including both genders and several archetypes. They build a giant drill, which breaks at the last minute. Handsome actor has flashback to childhood, when he accidentally made a sinkhole in the beach with a toy shovel and is able to dig the remaining 10 miles with his fingernails and teeth.

    Team plants Nuclear Device Designed to Save Us All From Certain Death and detonates it, but of course it just makes things worse. Handsome actor inserts wrench into Earth's core, solving the problem, and then dies of radiation poisoning after making love to the attractive, sweedish scientist whose role (other than that) in the movie is as vague as her scientific credentials.

    That's just my idea, though. I'm sure theirs will be totally different!
  • bah! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jafac (1449) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @12:07PM (#4636996) Homepage
    If this has happened every 250,000 years, it's obviously not a threat to the existence of life on this planet.

    Apparently this article is a flare, to get the public thinking about magnetic field reversal, to hype the upcoming disaster-movie The Core. Expect this story to appear on CNN soon.
  • Reality and fantasy (Score:5, Informative)

    by tomem (542334) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @12:09PM (#4637003) Homepage Journal
    This effect is real and well-known, but consequences are just beginning to be studied. It will be, after all, the first reversal during human history (self-written, at least). The field magnitude is believed to have dropped about a factor of two since biblical times, based on records of auroral observations, so it appears to be well under way at present. I don't have a handy reference, but I believe there was an article this past year in the Eos Transactions of the American Geophysical Union ( a weekly newsletter that can be found in most technical libraries).

    Some cynical views are expressed here, but it does seem prudent to investigate what our current knowledge would actually predict for effects. One thing sure is that the solar wind is not powerful enough to carry off a significant amount of atmosphere during the short duration (on a geologic time scale) of a reversal. But there may be many other effects, including disturbances of the upper atmosphere, possibly the ozone layer.

    To counterbalance the claims about Mars, it's important to note that Venus has no magnetic field at all, but has retained a very dense atmosphere. On the other hand there is almost no water present (left?) in the Venusian atmosphere.

    It does take human effort (i.e. funding) to look at these things seriously rather than speculatively.
  • Nemesis (Score:3, Informative)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @12:24PM (#4637052) Homepage Journal
    This is a sign of what is to come in the future - there will be magnetic pole shifts, earth axis will decline due to precession, weather changes, and to top all of this - the Sun will blow up in 4-5 billion years from now. So, shouldn't we start doing what is really important - just like in Ring World (Larry Niven) and Nemesis (Isaac Asimov), lets develop technology to move this planet around space, but we'll need really good working fusion power-plants to be constant source of energy and we'll need some sort of propulsion to move so much mass. Of-course Asimov's Nemesis shows that the best course of actions is to build huge space stations and move all folks up there, using the planets only as space anchors. These space stations will have to be able to survive any radiation, so they should be protected by artifficial magnetic fields. For now, let's just build a system of huge satellites around this planet that will serve as a radiation shield from the sun.
  • by Ektanoor (9949) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @12:26PM (#4637063) Journal
    We have just seen on /. some story about academical rubbish in the field of Physics. Now we read another bigger rubbish about Earth's magnetic poles. Yes, "bigger" because a Big Bang hoax theory may be still "speculative" as Big Bang itself is still a Big Question. Now that Earth will boil or that migrating birds will get disoriented is pure bullshit as there are tons of facts to show its fallacy. Let me note a few:

    The geological record shows lots of inversions occuring during Earth's History. But we are still alive don't we?

    For those who studied Mars, well studied it, know that Martian Oceans didn't boil up in a very very old past. Whatever happened there, created a global and massive movement of the hydrosphere some billion years after Mars was formed. I don't see how a magnetic pole inversion would help creating 1km deep canyons in a matter of hours or days. It is very probable that this happened long after the Martian Magnetic Pole turned off.

    If anyone cares to look at the Atlantic migrating birds, then he will note that some use both America and Africa to their travel North-South. Before Challenger's expedition (the ship, not the shuttle), people considered this as one of the evidences that these continents were much closer together in the past, as the zigzag pattern of migration turned into a nearly straight line.

    Some birds may highly depend on the magnetic field to travel. But birds have been travelling around earth for a period much longer than most modern mammals (note: marsupials and placentarians are very recent additions to Earth's biota). Have we seen major extinctions of birds during Earth's magnetic flip-flops?

    As far as I know, the Atlantic had plenty of water since Jurassic times. Challenger's expedition made several analysis of the magnetic properties of the bottom of the Atlantic. It showed a surface where the magnetic field changed direction sequently during the several millions of years, since Atlantic was formed.

    There is a theory that claims that for some millions of years, Earth had no magnetic field - during the megafrost that happened between Archaic and Cambric. I don't know if this is correct but, if so, it seems that Life lived and passed well enough this terrible period.

    Well, probably, any pole flip-flop may have its consequences on Earth and its inhabitants. But claiming it as the End of the World is the purest BS. This is Bad Science(TM) that many academics love to drop out over the masses. On one side they love to consider themselves as The Temple of Knowledge and save it from hoaxers, marginals, dissidents and heretics. On the other side they play no better than those clerics in Middle Ages, that at every sighting of a comet would cry over the crows "Armageddon! Armageddon is coming". Time to get more serious and sobber.
  • by CecilSagehen (624569) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @01:44PM (#4637424)
    The conventional wisdom is that the actual reversal takes centuries, but some new evidence has geologists wondering if it can happen much more quickly, like weeks. We see old magnetic fields frozen in cooled lava, sometimes pointing north, sometimes south. In the last few years, while studying a ~10 million year old basalt flow in the Steens Mountain, Oregon, researchers think they have found a flow that solidified while a reversal was taking place. The bottom portion of the flow points one way, then the orientation gradually changes until the top (middle? -- last to cool) points the other way. We have a pretty good handle on how fast lava cools, and that whole event should only have lasted several weeks. Hard to believe but no one has come up with a great alternative explanation yet. So just may happen VERY quickly when it hits the tipping point. Yet another reason to ask for a GPS for Christmas!
  • by MarvinMouse (323641) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @01:50PM (#4637458) Homepage Journal
    Our technology will have to undergo a severe shift.

    I am surprised no one has commented on the fact that the magnetic fields around earth protect the Earth from radiation that _damages_ electronics. When the sun has a solar flare, satellites are knocked out by the radiation. The only reason computers on the planet aren't is because the magnetic fields deflect enough of the radiation to make it harmless to electronics.

    Yet, if we don't have a magnetic field to deflect the radiation, we end up with a completely different problem. A solar flare will likely be able to take out a majority of our satellites at first (if they aren't shielded, which most aren't to the degree needed.) Then with no field at all, the electronics on the planet are threatened by the radiation.

    Likely very little will happen to us (considering it's just EM radiation mostly, and not radioactive isotopes.) But, There will definitely be a shift in computer construction towards better shielded designs. (because if there isn't, then... well, there won't be any computers working at all.)
  • Let's be realistic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linux2000 (23448) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @03:46PM (#4637999) Homepage Journal
    ...and could disappear over the next 1,000 years.

    Exactly what will happen when Earth's magnetic field disappears ... is also difficult to assess. Compasses would point to the wrong pole - a minor inconvenience.

    Not my compass! My compass is made of metal and plastic; it will long since have biodegraded 1,000 years from now. Why would people in the year 3000 still be making compasses exactly the way we do today?
    More importantly, low-orbiting satellites would be exposed to electromagnetic batterings, wrecking them.
    You mean today's low-orbiting satellites? Do you really think they have enough fuel to maintain orbit-path error correction for the next 1,000 years? All the satellites we have today will be gone by then! Humanity will have replaced them with far cooler technology that we cannot even dream of today.
    In addition, many species of migrating animals and birds - from swallows to wildebeests - rely on innate abilities to track Earth's magnetic field. Their fates are impossible to gauge.
    Oh my God! Since the animals will be exactly the way they are today 1,000 years from now, they are doomed! Since animals can never adapt to their natural environment generation after generation. At the very least, adaptation takes time, and animals only have 1,000 years to do it! This is horrible!

    Time now for some math.

    Suppose a swallow is born 500 years from now. It's life span is what, 2-3 years? At the beginning of its life, the earth's magnetic strength is 0.5 as strong as it is today (500 years left/1000). By the end of the swallow's life it is 0.497 as strong (497 years left/1000), for a 0.6% change in magnetic field strength during the course of it's entire life. Less than one percent! Yeah, I think a swallow can deal with that.

    If you are born with something (sound, energy, happiness, whatever) that is weaker than it was 1000 years ago, you do not even notice. It's that way all your life, and you cope with it. You never even consider it.

  • by Thurn und Taxis (411165) on Sunday November 10, 2002 @05:01PM (#4638421) Homepage
    Guess it's time to burn my orienteering merit badge.

The meat is rotten, but the booze is holding out. Computer translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

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