A report that the Earth’s magnetic field “collapsed” for more than two hours last week sparked fears of solar winds and radiation apocalypse. According to the report by a conspiracy theory-leaning website called Superstation95, satellite data obtained at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado, showed a complete collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field, called the Magnetosphere.
The Earth’s magnetosphere, the area of space around Earth where the Earth’s magnetic field is dominant, is formed by the interaction between solar wind and the magnetic field. Life on Earth evolved under the protection of the magnetosphere which shields the atmosphere from direct exposure to harmful particles carried by solar winds and radiation.
A sudden collapse of the magnetosphere would thus potentially expose billions of people around the world to dangerous solar winds and radiation.
The alleged collapse of the Earth’s magnetosphere occurred at precisely 01:37:05 ET or 05:37:05 UTC (06:37 GMT) on April 23, until 03:39:51 ET or 07:39:51 UTC (08:39 GMT).
Superstation95 went on to paint an alarming apocalyptic picture of the consequence of collapse of the Earth’s magnetosphere.
“This magnetic juggling act can have devastating effects upon Earth,” the website commented. “This is not a small magnetic situation; it is huge… planetary huge… it can trigger massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, unpredictable ocean currents and tides. The blast of heat energy… will have sent a large surge into the exposed ocean areas, increasing water temperatures enough to cause severe storms.”
— snopes.com (@snopes) April 27, 2016
“This magnetic juggling act… it can trigger massive earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, unpredictable ocean currents and tides.”
The report caused panic in some circles.
But NASA moved quickly to allay fears, saying that the alleged collapse of the Earth’s magnetosphere was in fact an error caused by a glitch in the computer software used to build real-time simulations of space weather and to monitor Earth’s magnetosphere.
The fact-checking website Snopes reports that a space weather expert, Leila Mays, said, “The erroneous results was caused by a glitch in our system that allowed the model to ingest bad real-time solar wind data.”
“There is a gap in simulation output for a couple hours after this because the simulation crashed (due to the bad input data),” the expert added.
Mays explained that the simulation software gave erroneous results on the morning of April 23, 2016, due to a glitch in the system traced to bad real-time solar wind data. The simulation has since reverted to normal following correction of the error. Mays said that experts were working to reconstruct the actual solar weather situation during the period that the glitch lasted by obtaining and imputing the actual solar wind data for the period.
Planet Earth's Magnetic field collapsed for 2& 1/2 hours, family. https://t.co/fBQPQcZshL
— ErykahBadoula (@fatbellybella) April 26, 2016
According to Mays, “When the simulation restarted it was back to normal. We are in the process of addressing the glitch and will post more information when available. We will rerun the simulation with correct solar wind data input and correct the simulation results.”
Snopes notes that Superstation95 has a long history of spreading conspiracy theories and alarming hoaxes online. The website is run by Hal Turner, a white supremacist — according to Snopes — who was sentenced to 33 months in prison in 2010 for issuing death threats against federal judges.
Since Turner started Superstation95 in 2015, the website has generated several online hoaxes and conspiracy theories, including a rumor that Muslims fired on a group of hikers in California.
However, despite NASA’s statement that the apparent collapse of the Earth’s magnetosphere on April 23 was due to a computer software glitch, there have been concerns in recent years about an apparent gradual weakening of the Earth’s magnetosphere.
The Inquisitr reported last November that Bruce Jakosky, NASA’s MAVEN principal investigator, said that data shows the magnetic field has weakened drastically in the past 160 years and that continued weakening could lead to reversal of the Earth’s magnetic poles in less than 1,000 years or even as early as the next 100 years, causing compasses to point in the opposite direction.
There are fears that weakening and reversal of the magnetic poles could have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth because Earth’s magnetic field protects life on the planet from direct exposure to harmful particles from solar winds and solar radiation.
— lissakr11 (@lissakr11) April 25, 2016
Conspiracy theory blogs have claimed that reversal of magnetic poles could lead to “shifting of continents,” and “trigger earthquakes, tsunamis and catastrophic changes in global climate.”
Some scientific researchers intensified fears with claims that flipping of the Earth’s magnetic poles may have led to mass extinctions in the past. According to some researchers, a pole shift that occurred about 40,000 years ago during the Ice Age may have caused extinction of Ice Age Neanderthals.
But NASA has attempted to allay fears, saying that magnetic pole reversals have occurred over the ages of geologic history spanning millions of years and that contrary to research studies that link a pole shift during the Ice Age to extinction of Neanderthals, there is no evidence that pole shifts are linked to mass extinctions.
There is also no evidence that Earth’s magnetic field has ever disappeared completely, NASA said.
NASA added that even if the magnetic field disappears, Earth has a thick protective atmosphere that shields humans and life on Earth from most of the harmful solar winds and radiation.
[Image via NASA/Wikimedia/Public Domain]