One of the main reasons that life on earth thrives is that it is protected against one of the more harsh phenomena of space by something that we can not even see. It is the magnetic field that our planet generates, and it does a lot more than tell your compass how you look.
A new study suggests that the poles of our planet can indeed shift and switch much faster than previously thought. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say they have found evidence that the poles of the Earth have shifted rapidly in the past, and if that were to happen again, this could cause worldwide disaster.
The study, which was conducted by scientists in China, Australia and Taiwan, focuses on the findings of an unexpected place: a cave. Stalagmites from an underground cave in China were found to have a fairly accurate record of the magnetic changes that took place on Earth over a period of 16,000 years, starting around 107,000 years ago.
The scientists believe that the data they have collected reveal that the Earth's magnetic field has been shifting over the course of just a few hundred years. This polarity flip is much faster than scientists had guessed. Earlier estimates suggested that it would take several thousand years before the poles would change. This is bad news for technology-dependent species … which are actually only us.
When the poles shift, the magnetic field of the earth weakens considerably. Scientists think that the strength of the magnetic field can drop by as much as 90 percent, which would have an incredible impact on the electronics and electricity networks we rely on on a daily basis.
Today, even with the Earth's magnetic field at full strength, solar weather can pose a threat to sensitive systems. Solar flares and coronal mass bursts can bake communications equipment and cause costly damage. If the protective field of the earth were to weaken by 90%, the researchers say we can see damage corresponding to the trillions of dollars, not to mention a significant impact on modern life.
Place your selfies while you still can.