Solar Flares and Earth’s Magnetic Field
A few weeks ago, the sun produced a simply massive solar flare. This solar flare turned out to be so powerful that it left our home planet’s magnetic field less than intact.
While there are some pretty serious implications to this, we don’t want to get all “doom, gloom, and misery” about it. We’ll analyze what a magnetic field does, how it was cracked, and what this means for everyone’s favorite habitable planet.
What Does Earth’s Magnetic Field Do?
In short, a lot. Life would not be sustainable on planet Earth without a strong magnetic field. The magnetic field is mostly generated by molten iron deep within Earth’s core. Iron, a ferromagnetic element, exudes magnetism that extends far beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Think of it as a protective barrier surrounding the planet.
This barrier protects us from harmful radiation emitted from the sun’s solar flares. Earth’s magnetic field shields most of this radiation from entering the atmosphere. Without the magnetic field, the planet would be burned to a crisp. Read more about this theory in our earlier blog about Proxima B.
So, What Happened?
Solar flares occur very often. These vast amounts of energy are usually expelled in the form of plasma. Fortunately, Earth’s magnetic field is usually strong enough to deflect and damaging radiation these flares might give off—usually.
However, a few weeks ago, the sun let out a solar flare so massive, it shrunk Earth’s magnetic field by almost 60% of its total size. In other words, the magnetic field is normally 11 times the radius of Earth, but this solar flare shrivelled it down to a mere 4 times.
While it was shrinking, scientists in India who were monitoring the phenomenon, noticed a “crack” in the magnetic field. This crack essentially left parts of Earth directly exposed to the sun’s radiation. The most immediate effects were widespread radio blackouts around the world.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much anyone can do about future solar flares, radiation, or more cracks forming in Earth’s magnetic field. In the short term, more cracks could lead to more interference with radios and other technology.
It’s happened before. A solar flare in the 1960s took out American radar, leading them to think the Soviet Union was behind it. Many historians believe this almost started World War III.
Looking ahead, a cracking magnetic field could have other, much more dire consequences. As stated above, Earth’s magnetic field protects the atmosphere and the planet from radiation. If the magnetic field weakens, it means our atmosphere will disappear, leading Earth to look a lot more like Mercury. Although, this is a very big IF and would probably not happen for a very long time.
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