The Earths magnetic field is weakening between Africa and South America, causing problems for spacecraft and satellites, scientists with the European Space Agency (ESA) have said.
Researchers noted that there is an anomaly in the South Atlantic that has grown in recent years. Data from the ESAs Swarm constellation of satellites showed that the magnetic fields strength in the area dropped by 8 percent between 1970 and 2020.
Meanwhile, the weakness in the field has moved to the west at a pace of around 12 miles per year, according to scientists.
“The new, eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously,” said Jürgen Matzka, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, in an ESA news release.
He added, “We are very lucky to have the Swarm satellites in orbit to investigate the development of the South Atlantic Anomaly. The challenge now is to understand the processes in Earths core driving these changes.”
One possibility for the shift, according to the ESA, is that its a sign the Earths magnetic field is about to reverse, meaning that the North Pole and South Pole may switch places.
The last time this phenomenon took place was approximately 700,000 years ago, and such events usually take place every 250,000 years.
An event of such magnitude could have serious repercussions as magnetic fields play a role in protecting Earth from cosmic radiation and solar winds.
Satellite and telecommunication systems also use the Earths magnetic field to operate, meaning that a shift could trigger devastating problems to worldwide communication.
Whats more, the agency said that spacecrafts and satellites flying in the are could suffer “technical malfunctions.”
However, a report in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” in 2018 found that weakening does not suggest that the Earths magnetic field is reversing, saying that the process would take thousands of years.