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Earth's magnetic field was once near to collapse


Posted on Wednesday, 30 January, 2019 | Comment icon 11 comments

Without the magnetic field, mankind would have never existed. Image Credit: NASA / Peter Reid
A new study has revealed that our planet's protective magnetic field almost disappeared 565 million years ago.
It's something that all of us take for granted and to which we owe our very existence, yet it turns out that in the distant past, our planet was very close to losing its magnetic field entirely.

This remarkable revelation comes courtesy of researchers from the University of Rochester in New York who, by analyzing rock samples from Quebec, were able to determine that the Earth's magnetic field was ten times weaker than it is today around 565 million years ago.

The magnetic field is produced by our planet's core - a huge ball of molten iron surrounded by a layer of liquid metal. As this metal flows it produces electric currents which in turn produce magnetism.

The researchers believe that at this particular point in time, the Earth's magnetic field was on the verge of collapse and may have only been saved by the nucleation of the core - a process that saw lighter elements move outwards as the inner core began to solidify, strengthening the magnetic field.

If the field had disappeared, the Earth would have been stripped of its atmosphere, wiping out most - if not all - life on our planet and making our own existence impossible.

Source: Live Science | Comments (11)

Tags: Earth, Magnetic Field

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Piney on 30 January, 2019, 20:49
Our planet is so unusual it makes you wonder if we are it in technological life. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by bison on 30 January, 2019, 20:50
That's pretty close to the start of the Cambrian Explosion, about 541 million years ago. This was when the diversity of life forms increased greatly, and most of the varieties of life we see today had their origin. I wonder if there could be any connection. 
Comment icon #4 Posted by bison on 30 January, 2019, 21:01
Out of an estimated 40 billion possibly habitable planets in our galaxy, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a still- large number that actually host technologically advanced civilizations. Earth is special to us, of course, but in the larger view it could be one of a great many. 
Comment icon #5 Posted by Piney on 30 January, 2019, 21:03
The moon as our "rudder" kept the spin stable enough for higher life forms to develop.  
Comment icon #6 Posted by Nnicolette on 30 January, 2019, 21:07
^personally i think detecting the magnetic field is a better approach to sniffing out planets with habitable surfaces, although the interiors may be more commonly habitable. Hasnt there been a bit of fluctuation going on with our magnetic field currently? Has anyone ever seen the movie "the Core"?
Comment icon #7 Posted by bison on 30 January, 2019, 21:11
Very true, it seems. Given the rain of planetesimals early in the history of our solar system, the sort of collision that gave rise to Earth's relatively large moon may not be such a rare thing elsewhere. We even have a second example in our own system, in Pluto and Charon.  
Comment icon #8 Posted by bison on 30 January, 2019, 21:19
I don't believe it's currently possible to detect habitable-planet-sized magnetic fields at interstellar distance. We might be able to have indirect evidence of them, such as auroras, once telescopes large enough to scrutinize planetary atmospheres come on line.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Doug1o29 on 30 January, 2019, 22:06
We may be able to find planets with life by analyzing their atmospheres.  The James Webb Telescope is supposed to have that capacity.  It's something like two or three years from launch. Doug
Comment icon #10 Posted by bison on 31 January, 2019, 3:46
The weakening of Earth's magnetic field was apparently fairly brief, since it did not seem to cause the wholesale destruction of the atmosphere. The extra radiation that got through to the surface at that time could have been enough to cause a higher rate of genetic mutation. This might have led to the huge diversifying of life seen at about this time, which is called the Cambrian Explosion.  
Comment icon #11 Posted by Jon the frog on 31 January, 2019, 12:32
So frail our existence is...


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