Many times over our planet’s history, Earth’s magnetic poles have reversed, meaning that sometimes a compass pointing north will be aimed at Antarctica rather than the Arctic. This might sound strange, but it’s a relatively predictable quirk. Powered by the machinations of the planet’s spinning iron core, this process of geomagnetic reversal has been doing its thing without much fanfare for eons. That is, until this week, when a book excerpt describing the phenomenon appeared online. Shortly afterward, numerous websites began trumpeting the doomsday around the corner, a geomagnetic apocalypse in which tumors run rampant, satellites fall from the sky, and life on Earth will cease to exist as we know it. True, life on Earth almost certainly will be different than it is today in multiple thousands of years. But will these polar acrobatics have much to do with that? First thing’s first: Are we all going to die? We are all going to die, eventually. But chances are that we will not immediately—or even proximally—perish when Earth’s next geomagnetic reversal occurs. Fine. So what is a geomagnetic reversal? If geologic history repeats itself, Earth’s magnetic poles should eventually swap places. This much is undeniable. Based on the magnetic fingerprints locked into ancient rocks, we know that over the last 20 million years, magnetic north and south have flipped roughly every 200,000 to 300,000 years (this rate has not been constant over the planet’s lifetime, though). The last of these major reversals occurred about 780,000 years ago, although the Poles do wander around in between these larger flips. (What’s more, climate change seems to be shifting Earth’s geographic poles.) Read More: Nat Geo
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