Scientists over at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have discovered a small but evolving dent in our planet’s magnetic field which can spell disaster for satellites.
But what is our magnetic field and what does it do for us? According to a press release by the agency, it serves as a protective shield around our planet. It repels and traps charged particles from the Sun and it deflects most of the winds from the Sun, called solar winds, which if left unchecked, would strip away our ozone layer. The ozone layer is the layer in the atmosphere that protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. You can imagine HOW IMPORTANT the role it plays for us.
Called the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), located in South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean, is an unusually weak spot in the magnetic field. And this baffled and puzzled specialists over the space agency which set the pace for them to investigate and document this phenomenon to better understand its impact on us and the technologies over at NASA.
What causes this anomaly?
After looking into the data, it can be deduced that the South Atlantic Anomaly occurs because of two primary reasons – the tilt of the Earth’s magnetic axis and the flow of molten metals within the Earth’s outer core.
Imagine our planet as a big magnet. The only difference of our planet to a regular ‘ol bar magnet is that our magnetic field isn’t perfectly aligned throughout the globe and it’s not even stable. Our planet’s interior also plays a key role in this mechanism. The metals present deep underneath the crust, generate electricity as they move around the area. This is called a geodynamo and it helps produce the magnetic field.
These motions within the Earth’s core gradually change over time due to the multifaceted geodynamic conditions present which result in fluctuations. This causes the anomaly and other related phenomena on Earth.
Scientists over at NASA say that there are other contributing factors on our Earth’s magnetic field and its fluctuations but the bulk of it comes from the two aforementioned reasons.
Hazardous for our satellites?
There may not be any serious implications the anomaly can cause to the regular American Joe, don’t you worry, but the SAA can cause serious damage to spacecraft hovering over in low-Earth orbit that are traveling in the area. Due to the weak magnetic field on the area, a satellite may be susceptible to be hit by a high-energy proton which can cause damage to its machinery. Most satellites shut down and switch to their basic functions when it traverses through the area.
Another important craft, the International Space Station (ISS) regularly passes by the SAA and it is well-protected from the hazards in the area, as well as the astronauts and special technical equipment aboard it.
Scientists over at NASA have also conducted a series of other tests to better understand the phenomenon and how we can better prepare future equipment for it.
And their research proves to be successful. One of its results is the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF). This helps other research teams to track and describe the Earth’s magnetic field and the gradual changes it undergoes over time. By doing so, NASA and its partner agencies can better prepare for technologies to make satellites better equipped and safer before they are launched in space.