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Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

Satellite data shows a new, eastern center emerging in the South Atlantic Anomaly.

ESA
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.

A portion of the Earth's magnetic field, known as the "South Atlantic Anomaly," is weakening and may be headed for a split, shows new data. The strange phenomenon is also triggering technical problems in Earth-orbiting satellites.

Our planet's magnetic field is an important part of the defenses that protect us from cosmic radiation and charged particles streaming from the Sun. The field is also the reason compasses and GPS work. It's generated by the ocean of liquid iron in the planet's outer core, about 1800 miles below our feet. The iron acts like "a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo," explains the press release from the European Space Agency (ESA), which carried out the research. The iron's flow spawns electrical currents that then generate the planet's ever-changing electromagnetic field. The liquid iron core behaves like a giant magnet, causing the existence of the North and South poles.

The scientists were able to establish that the entire magnetic field of the planet has diminished by 9 percent in its strength during the past 200 years. The "South Atlantic Anomaly" segment, which stretches from Africa to South America, is of particular concern. Satellites from ESA's Swarm Constellation mission, that looked into the anomaly detected a strong weakening southwest of Africa, which points to the possibility that the area would break into two different low points.

While the observed changes don't necessarily mean the Sun is about to fry our planet or some similar calamity, it does indicate that something is happening within the Earth's core. This is what the agency is hoping to figure out through further research. One possibility – the north and south poles are about to switch positions, with the South Atlantic Anomaly being the origin of the transformation (which happens every 250,000 years or so).

South Atlantic Anomaly impact radiation. Credit: ESA

Jürgen Matzka, a researcher into geomagnetism at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, explained in a statement that the new weak spot "has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously." He added that we're fortunate to have the Swarm satellites studying the issue, while "the challenge now is to understand the processes in Earth's core driving these changes."

The weakness of the magnetic field has occasionally caused the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit satellites to experience communication and computer issues.

Is the Magnetic Field Reversing?

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by climate change, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.
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Creativity: The science behind the madness

Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.

Creativity: The science behind the madness | Rainn Wilson, David Eagleman, Scott ...
Videos
  • An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
  • According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
  • Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.

New study explores how to navigate 'desire discrepancies' in long term relationships

With the most common form of female sexual dysfunction impacting 1 in 10 women, this important study dives into how to keep a relationship going despite having different needs and wants in the bedroom.

NDAB Creativity / Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • A new study highlights the difficulties faced by women who struggle with decreased sexual desire, and explains how to navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships.
  • Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is one of the most common forms of female sexual dysfunction, impacting an estimated 1 in 10 women.
  • Finding other ways to promote intimacy in your relationship is one of the keys to ensuring happiness on both sides.
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