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Earth's magnetic poles probably won't flip soon, after all

An artist's depiction of Earth's magnetic field.
An artist's depiction of Earth's magnetic field. (Image credit: artpartner-images via Getty Images)

Earth's magnetic field may not be heading toward a dramatic flip anytime soon, according to scientists who analyzed anomalies in the planet's invisible shield against solar wind and other radiation.

Earth's magnetic north and south poles switch at irregular intervals at an average of every 200,000 years or so, and the event could have a dramatic effect on the environment and technology.

There had been speculation that the next flip was close because of the South Atlantic Anomaly, a mysterious area in which the magnetic field is unusually weak. However, this anomaly may not indicate that a weakening and switching of the magnetic field are imminent, according to a new study.

Related: New type of magnetic wave might explain the strange fluctuations in Earth's magnetic field

"We have mapped changes in the Earth's magnetic field over the past 9,000 years, and anomalies like the one in the South Atlantic are probably recurring phenomena linked to corresponding variations in the strength of the Earth's magnetic field," Andreas Nilsson, a geologist at Lund University and co-author of the study, said in a statement (opens in new tab).

The results are based on analyses of burnt archaeological artifacts, volcanic samples and sediment drill cores, which contain information on the history of Earth's magnetic field. 

The team from Lund University used these data to develop a model that recreated the direction and strength of the magnetic field at specific places and times.

"Based on similarities with the recreated anomalies, we predict that the South Atlantic Anomaly will probably disappear within the next 300 years and that Earth is not heading towards a polarity reversal," Nilsson said. 

The study was published June 6 in the journal PNAS (opens in new tab).

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).