Earth's magnetic fields headed towards switch: Rare event believed to have caused extinction of Neanderthal species

Schematic illustration of Earth's magnetic field.(NASA/Peter Reid, The University of Edinburgh)

Do not be surprised if one day, compasses will point to the south by default instead of the north.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed that the Earth's magnetic fields are headed towards a complete reversal—a rare event believed to have once caused the wiping out of the Neanderthal species.

Principal investigator Bruce Jakosky from the University of Colorado made this announcement recently while discussing how NASA believes Mars lost its once thick atmosphere, and consequently, its ability to sustain life.

Jakoksy warned that once the Earth's magnetic fields switch, the planet will somewhat lose its protection against the Sun's dangerous radiation.

"When the polar shift happens the Earth will have no magnetic field for about 200 years," he explained.

The researcher added that the Earth will be more vulnerable to solar flares, which cause interruptions to communication devices and may have stripped off Mars' atmosphere.

Jakoksy nevertheless assured that the Earth will not reach the point that it can no longer sustain life following the switching of the magnetic fields.

Scientists also allayed fears of this event triggering a powerful earthquake.

"The most dramatic changes that occur when the poles reverse is a very large decrease of the total field intensity," said Jean-Pierre Valet, who conducts research on geomagnetic reversals at the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris.

Monika Korte, the scientific director of the Niemegk Geomagnetic Observatory at GFZ Potsdam in Germany, meanwhile clarified that the magnetic field switch will not happen in one instance.

"It's not a sudden flip, but a slow process, during which the field strength becomes weak, very probably the field becomes more complex and might show more than two poles for a while, and then builds up in strength and [aligns] in the opposite direction," Korte said.

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