One of the most interesting discoveries about Earth in the past few decades concerns the Earth’s magnetic poles. Paleomagnetic records show that the poles have flipped places 183 times in the last 83 million years. That’s about every 450,000 years on average, though there were ten million years between flips in at least two cases.
The Earth’s magnetic field is experiencing some rapid changes right now, but scientists say that has no relation to pole flipping.
Auroral activity on Earth varies over time. As the magnetic poles drift, auroras can appear at different latitudes around the globe. Solar activity also affects them, with powerful solar storms pushing the auroras further into mid-latitudes.
In an effort to better understand how auroras move around, how they’ll move in the future, and when powerful solar storms might pose a threat, a team of researchers have tracked auroral activity for the last 3,000 years.
Wind the cosmic clock back a few billion years and our Solar System looked much different than it does today. About 4.5 billion years ago, the young Sun shone much like it does now, though it was a little smaller. Instead of being surrounded by planets, it was ensconced in a swirling disk of gas and dust. That disk is called a protoplanetary disk and it’s where the planets eventually formed.
There was a conspicuous gap in the early Solar System’s protoplanetary disk, between where Mars and Jupiter are now, and where the modern-day asteroid belt sits. What exactly caused the gap is a mystery, but astronomers think it’s a sign of the processes that governed planet formation.
Every 200,000 to 300,000 years Earth’s magnetic poles reverse. What was once the north pole becomes the south, and vice versa. It’s a time of invisible upheaval.
The last reversal was unusual because it was so long ago. For some reason, the poles have remained oriented the way they are now for about three-quarters of a million years. A new study has revealed some of the detail of that reversal.