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LONDON, Oct. 3, 2012 (Reuters) — The discovery by NASA rover Curiosity of evidence that water once flowed on Mars - the most Earth-like planet in the solar system - should intensify interest in what the future could hold for mankind.
The only thing stopping Earth having a lifeless environment like Mars is the magnetic field that shields us from deadly solar radiation and helps some animals migrate, and it may be a lot more fragile and febrile than one might think.
Scientists say earth's magnetic field is weakening and could all but disappear in as little as 500 years as a precursor to flipping upside down.
DESCENT INTO CHAOS
Scientists, who have known for some time the magnetic field has a tendency to flip, have made advances in recent years in understanding why and how it happens.
The field is generated by convection currents that churn in the molten iron of the planet's outer core. Other factors, such as ocean currents and magnetic rocks in the earth's crust also contribute.
The Swarm mission will pull all these elements together to improve computer models used to predict how the magnetic field will move and how fast it could weaken.
Ciaran Beggan, a geomagnetic specialist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, said studies have also refined our understanding of how the field reverses.
They have focused on lava flows. When these cool and form crystals the atoms in iron-rich molten rock align under the influence of the magnetic field, providing a geological memory of the earth's field.
But that memory looks different in various locations around the world, suggesting the reversal could be a chaotic and fairly random process.
"Rather than having strong north and south poles, you get lots of poles around the planet. So, a compass would not do you much good," said Beggan.
While the whole process takes 3,000-5,000 years, latest research suggests the descent into a chaotic state could take as little as 500 years, although there are significant holes in scientific understanding.
Many doomsday theorists have tried to take this natural geological occurrence and suggest it could lead to Earth’s destruction. But would there be any dramatic effects? The answer, from the geologic and fossil records we have from hundreds of past magnetic polarity reversals, seems to be ‘no.’
On December 21st of this year, the Long Count Calendar will finish a cycle. Many predict that when this cycle ends, so too will our world. But Dr. Stuart said:
There is a date this year – in the year 2012 – in late December, which will see the turn of a cycle. And this is a cycle we call a bak’tun, and a bak’tun occurs every 400 years. So it’s a significant point in the ancient Maya calendar. Now, did the Maya ever say anything about this date? Did they ever predict anything? No – absolutely not.
So where did all this commotion linking 2012 to the end of days actually come from?
Scholars point to “Estela numero seis,” también llamada “Estela de Tortuguero”, an ancient Mayan carving from modern-day Tabasco, Mexico, as the source of the 2012 doomsday myths. This is the only inscription where the ancient Maya mentioned the year 2012. So, we asked Professor Stuart, what does the carving say?
It doesn’t say much. It cites the date but there’s no real prophecy with it. The ancient records actually talk about dates in the future well beyond 2012.
For example, the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, discusses events slated to occur in the year 4772 A.D., far in the future. Stuart said:
The Maya calendar not only doesn’t end, but it keeps going for eons and eons beyond 2012. If you look at the real structure of the calendar it’s almost endless. It goes well beyond the end of our universe and our own kind of scientific cosmology.
Bottom line: Professor David Stuart, an archaeologist and expert on the ancient Maya, told EarthSky that neither the Maya, nor their calendar, ever predicted the end of the world.
If left to its own devices, yes, the flip is a gradual one. If something we do triggers a domino effect, however, then all bets are off.
Originally posted by iforget
reply to post by wildtimes
This makes me wonder if any of the sudden jumps found in the evolutionary record could be tied to periods of higher radiation associated with a weakened planetary magnetic field.
The magnetic north pole is currently hovering over the North Sea and moving toward Siberia. This means two Florida airports are renumbering their runways.
Odd as this connection may appear on the surface, the adjustments under way at Tampa International Airport and beginning next week at Peter O'Knight Airport are the result of a natural, ongoing process.
The magnetic poles don't line up with the geographic ones, and the difference between them is an angle called declination. As if this wasn't enough of a nuisance for navigators, the Earth's magnetic field drifts, causing the angle of declination to change over time.
In fact, it drifts about one-fifth of a degree a year at lower latitudes, such as Florida. "So that means if you wait five years, the compass will be off by one degree," Love said.
For long-distance air travel, an error of only a couple of degrees could translate to arriving in the wrong airport, Love said. [5 Real Hazards of Air Travel]
Declination also varies depending on location. At high latitudes, it tends to become larger, and a compass becomes increasingly unreliable. If you were to stand over a magnetic pole, and tried to use your compass, it would not know where to point, Love said. Longitude also factors in.
As the patterns of motion of the molten iron in the Earth's core changes, so does the shape of the magnetic field, he said.
Right now, the magnetic north pole, where the field is vertical, is located at 84.97 degrees North and 132.35 degrees West, above the Arctic Ocean and drifting generally north-northwest toward Siberia at about 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) per year, according to Love.
In the 1950s, ocean-going research vessels recorded puzzling data based on the magnetism of the ocean floor. It was determined that the rock of the ocean floor had alternating bands of embedded iron oxides that pointed north and south. Thus, in 1963, the theory of the reversal of the earth's magnetic field was proposed and it has been a fundamental of earth science since.
Lava, which hardens into rock, contains grains of iron oxides that point toward the magnetic pole as the rock solidifies. Thus, these grains are permanent records of the location of the earth's magnetic field. As new crust is created on the ocean floor (such as at the Mid-Atlantic ridge), the new crust solidifies, with its iron oxide acting like miniature compass needles. Scientists have matched the magnetic bands on either side of the Mid-Atlantic ridge out to the edges of the ocean. To determine the distance between the Americas and Europe and Africa at any point since Pangea, one need only to "roll back" the oceanic crust to the appropriate matching magnetic bands on either side of the ridge. Magnetic reversals helped to prove the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift.
The earth's magnetic field has reversed approximately 170 times over the last 100 million years.
The strips on the Atlantic ocean floor, in particular, all seemed parallel to the "mid-Atlantic ridge." That is a volcanic ridge running roughly north-to-south (with some zigs and zags), halfway between Europe-Africa and America. It is marked by the focus-points of earthquakes and by some volcanic islands, and more recently it was explored by research submarines, which have at times observed lava oozing out at its crest. Not only were the magnetic strips lined-up with the central ridge, but their structure and distribution seemed remarkably symmetrical