A satellite triplet was born last week. The European Space Agency’s Swarm constellation flew into space on Friday (Nov. 22) on a quest to understand more about the Earth’s magnetic field.
Around the same time, ESA put out a few videos explaining why the magnetic field is important. This one explains that the magnetic field has weakened over the past few years, while the north pole has shifted direction. “In fact, a whole pole reversal is possible,” the narrator says. “It happened last 780,000 years ago at the very beginning of human history. But cavemen didn’t have mobile phone networks, GPS networks or power supplies.”
If a reversal did happen, it could affect those systems, the video adds, asking “Will we soon find ourselves back in the stone age?”
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In the short term, however, the focus is on Swarm’s science. The satellites successfully unfurled their booms on Saturday (Nov. 23) and are now starting three months of commissioning before their planned four-year mission.
Once they get going, the satellites will make observations from two altitudes — a pair at about 285 miles (460 kilometers) in altitude and the final of the trio at a higher altitude of 330 miles (530 kilometers). They will monitor any changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, looking at spots ranging from the core of our planet to areas of the upper atmosphere.
Check out this ESA web page for more information about the mission.