This is going to come as a disturbing development, at least to those who believe that an upcoming reversal of the Earth's magnetic field - accompanied by the North and South poles flipping in polarity - is going to signal the onset of the End Times, as prophesied in either some ancient Maya hieroglyphic text or a Black Sabbath song played backwards.
As it turns out, in an article just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rutgers University report that the Earth is NOT heading toward an imminent doomsday magnetic shift.
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The researchers report the Earth's magnetic field has been weakening over the past 200 years, which some have interpreted as a sign of an impending temporary bottoming-out. That could result in all sorts of bad stuff happening, since the magnetic field plays an important role in shielding us from excessive solar radiation. With a too-weak field, we might see a surge in genetic mutations, It could also wreak havoc upon migratory species such as monarch butterflies, which use the magnetic field as a guide in navigation.
Fortunately, though, that's not happening any time soon. As an MIT press release details, the researchers calculated Earth's average, stable field intensity over the last 5 million years, and found that today's intensity is about twice that of the historical average.
That means that the field's intensity would have to drop a lot more before it became unstable enough to cause a reversal.
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"It makes a huge difference, knowing if today's field is a long-term average or is way above the long-term average," says lead author Huapei Wang, a postdoctoral researcher in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, said in the press release. "Now we know we are way above the unstable zone. Even if the (field intensity) is dropping, we still have a long buffer that we can comfortably rely on."
If it's any consolation to doomsday cultists, though, Wang did note that the Earth last had a magnetic field flip 780,000 years ago, "so we are actually overdue for a flip."