Brussels, 17 May 2004
Fears that we will be bombarded by harmful radiation from space when the Earth's magnetic field falters during the next reversal of its poles are unfounded, according to German researchers.
Scientists believe that there are increasing signs that our planet's magnetic polarity is preparing to reverse - something that last happened 730,000 years ago. Some have speculated that during the process, when the Earth's protective magnetic field can drop to below ten per cent of its normal strength for many centuries, there will be nothing to stop lethal radiation reaching the planet's surface, with potentially calamitous consequences for life.
However, a new simulation by researchers from the University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute in Garching, Germany, suggests that the Sun will come to the rescue of its third satellite. The team believes that the solar wind - a million kilometres per hour stream of hydrogen and helium nuclei - will wrap itself around the Earth, creating a magnetic field as strong as the Earth's own.
Describing seeing the first results of the simulation, the University of Munich's Harald Lesch said: 'We were quite surprised about its effectiveness.' Their research comes at just the right time - the magnetic north pole has wandered some 1,100 kilometres in the last 200 years, and its strength is dropping at a rate of five per cent every century, both signs that a magnetic switch could be imminent.