One of the reasons that Earth is such a habitable planet is the vast magnetic field that surrounds it which protect the surface from harsh solar winds and toxic cosmic radiation. For a long time, it has been thought that the magnetic field was a fail safe, protective barrier. However, according to new research it might not be as impenetrable as was once assumed.
A team of scientists based in Ooty in India has been researching geomagnetic storms, with a particular focus on a massive burst of galactic cosmic rays traveling at close to the speed of light which bombarded the Earth on the 22nd June 2015. These cosmic rays were caused by a giant ejection of plasma from the outer atmosphere of the Sun and were described as being so powerful that they were capable of puncturing the hull of a spacecraft.
SOLAR STORM CAUSED EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELD TO CRACK
When the cosmic rays penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere, they caused some unusual effects which were observable at the time of the incident. They triggered a geomagnetic storm that was responsible for radio signal blackouts in high latitude countries and also resulted in a supercharged aurora borealis. But what scientists did not realize at the time was that the bombardment was so powerful that it temporarily damaged the magnetic field around Earth, causing it to shrink from eleven to four times the radius of the Earth. The Indian team believes that the bombardment not only shrank the field but also prised open its weak spots, allowing radiation and cosmic rays to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere.
Scientists have been quick to point out that the cracking of the magnetic field was not permanent and that the field swiftly reasserted itself. According to Katherine Wright from the American Physical Society, the information about the temporary weakening of the magnetic field will now be used to further knowledge about superstorms and their effects on technology both on Earth and in space.