‘Will We Soon Find Ourselves Back In The Stone Age?’ Why Swarm Is Watching Our Magnetic Field

Article written: 25 Nov , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
by

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?”

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.

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20 Responses

  1. anon says

    Posh, unless the shift does something to the human brain to cause a mass return to our caveman intelligence we would regress back to maybe the days of Edison. We still know and can within a generation re-acclimate to growing our own crops, raising our own animals and reverting back to a pre-electric society. I believe those most affected would be those in urban environments who rely heavily upon modern technology for convenience.

  2. Member
    Aqua4U says

    AS if we didn’t have enough ‘flip-flopping’ in DC? Am wondering after the state of the ‘South Atlantic Anomaly’. Are there any indications of geo-magnietic field strength changes there? Hopefully the SWARM will inform…

  3. Olaf2 says

    Back to the stone age when the magnetic field reverse?

    Dream on.

    People conveniently ignore the fact that Earths atmosphere is already polluted by lost of electrosmog way way way more stronger than earth’s magnetic field. Animals already use the magnetic fields of power lines as light houses and roadmaps.

    • Ken Lord says

      You are trolling right? Or do you not know how the earth’s magnetic field shields us from radiation and CME’s from the sun? Electrosmog? The effects (or lack thereof) of the fields on our persons is not the point.

      • Olaf2 says

        The atmosphere is also shielding from radiation. At the poles there is almost no magnetic shield. And worse, electromagnetic fields attracts the radiation towards the poles. People do not drop dead there.

        Electro-smog is affecting all living creatures that uses the magnetic field to navigate. Your refrigerator magnet is way more powerful than Earth’s magnetic field. And not to mention the power lines.

  4. kaplanfx says

    Some tech would break? Yes. Stone age? No.

    I fail to see how the issue would effect metallurgy and mechanics. We may lose SOME technology if the impact is severe enough (particularly anything that relies directly on the field or wireless transmission) but we could still have hardened computers and hard lines for communication.

  5. Ken Lord says

    … until a CME or large flare hits us, with our grid not shielded by the earth’s field, and induces enough current to fry anything attached to the grid, and the grid itself.

  6. Member
    Adrian Morgan says

    The video at the top of the post is ABSURDLY high-resolution (with no standard resolution option and no ability to pause while suspended — what is wrong with programmers who fail to grasp the concept of “paused while suspended”?). People of the Internet: there’s no need for this. Don’t upload videos in ultra-high resolution just because you can, without giving people a standard resolution option (which should usually be the default).

  7. David Corby says

    We are the most productive farmers in all of human history. Imagine no tractors or harvesters for a year. Life will devolve into the Road Warrior within about a month. Once that happens we are not coming back as a civilization for a long time.

    • Jose Luis says

      Why no tractors ?

      • David Corby says

        A large enough CME coupled with a weak magnetic field would fry most electronics. Farm equipment is highly computerized and automated these days. Even if crops were harvested by hand there would be no way to get it to market if things like trucks and gas stations are not working. In fact about the only nation that would survive the scenario laid out in this article would be North Korea.

      • Jose Luis says

        Such an scenario reminds me of speculations about EMP effects in case of atomic detonations high in the atmosphere. The optimistics (me included) would say that most tractors and trucks have diesel engines and will continue to operate even with defective electronics. Same with gas stations that could be easily made to pump. Provided we stiil had electricity available. But I agree that a great disruption would paralyze the electric grid for quite a while.

  8. Ettalb says

    Does this mean i’d have to leave my cessna in the hangar for a long long time?

  9. Chris Chapman says

    Major population centers wiped out, that way the rest are more easily controlled. Those in rural areas will watch and that’s all she wrote. Those in urban or big cities are strongly encouraged to leave due to smog and lighting issues obscuring your view and it’s potential to wipe your memory clean, seriously you think those that will be in power want to explain massive loss of beings we call Humans!!! Wake up, thanksgiving day DONT LOOK !!!

  10. Jose Luis says

    The reverse of Earth magnetic field polarity, if it happens, will not be fast enough to affect us in one generation.
    These periods are measured in Centuries, if not in Millennia. Also, fossil records of previous magnetic anomalies and inversions do not show that the magnetic field goes through Zero at any moment. The risk associated with space radiation in case of no Earth magnetic field seems to be unfounded.
    It would be interesting to consider what effects would such a polarity inversion have on our present communication systems and on the power electric network. As it would not happen in just a couple of days (or weeks, months or years), I am confident that our civilization would be able to adapt to it, without any catastrophic return to the past.

  11. Jose Luis says

    Such a change would be slow enough to let us adapt to it. Fossil records show that previous polarity inversions occurred in Centuries, when not Millennia

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