Swarm Mission Reveals Earth's Weakening Magnetic Field
The European Space Agency's (ESA) Swarm mission recently revealed Earth's weakening magnetic field, which is necessary to protect our planet from bombarding cosmic radiation and charged particles.
Launched in November 2013, the three-satellite Swarm constellation provided high-resolution insight into the complex workings of Earth's magnetic field, using instruments such as magnetometers that measure field strength and direction. Six months of measurements confirmed that the field is continuously weakening, with the most dramatic declines over the Western Hemisphere.
Though the general trend is a fading one, other areas like the southern Indian Ocean have actually strengthened since January. The latest measurements also confirm the shifting of magnetic North towards Siberia.
Results from the Swarm mission suggest that the magnetic cloak is once again switching sides, where north becomes south and vice versa. Although, experts note that this "flip-flop" could take thousands of years, BBC News reported.
Researchers believe that the magnetic field will most likely regain its strength in the future - hopefully sooner rather than later because it is a vital shield from charged particles streaming off of the Sun. Without it, those particles would strip away the atmosphere, just as they have done to Mars.
These changes are based on magnetic changes stemming from the Earth's core, but in the coming months researchers plan to investigate changes from other sources as well, such as the mantle, crust, oceans, ionosphere and magnetosphere, according to the ESA press release.
This will provide new insight into many natural processes, and also possibly explain why the field is weakening. Another practical benefit is improving the reliability of satellite navigation systems which can be affected by magnetic and electrical conditions high in the atmosphere.
"I started my career in magnetometry and the accuracy we had then in the laboratories was less than what we can fly in space now," Professor Volker Liebig, the director of Earth observation at ESA, explained to BBC News.
"So what we have on Swarm is fantastic, but we need long time series to understand fully the Earth's magnetic field, and we will get that from this mission," he said.
The first results were presented June 19, 2014 at the 'Third Swarm Science Meeting' in Copenhagen, Denmark.