THE SPINNING MAGNET - THE FORCE THAT CREATED
THE MODERN WORLD
Jones is an award-winning Canadian journalist with an advanced
degree in theoretical physics. She is a Senior Fellow of the Frontier
Centre for Public Policy, where she is leading the Treaty Annuity/Individual
Empowerment Initiative. For more of Sheilla visit her website
changing magnetic fields impact all aspects of life -- and there's
nothing we can do about it
reality at the level of atoms is really very weird. Most of us
happily walk around without any concern that the atoms that make
up the molecules of the cells of our bodies collectively contain
about the same amount of energy as 1,000 hydrogen bombs.
all that energy is safely trapped by powerful nuclear bonds, but
it is still there.
bother much about the billions of microscopic living things (bacteria)
inhabiting our mouths. It does nothing to inhibit us romantics
from kissing each other with fervour and delight.
to invisible physical realities also applies to the Earth’s
magnetic fields. They are shifting and moving all around us, all
the time, but unless we’re operating navigational systems
(as pilots or as birds) or enjoying a spectacular display of the
aurora borealis, we don’t pay much attention.
Toronto-based science writer Alanna Mitchell wants you to wake
up to the fact that the planet’s magnetic fields are heading
for a major disruption that could routinely disable electricity
grids, interfere with communications and GPS satellites and turn
your iPads and smartphones into useless rare-metal devices. Are
you paying attention now?
Spinning Magnet: The Force That Created the Modern World —
and Could Destroy It,
Mitchell warns that:
Earth’s magnetic fields are steadily weakening, which
reduces the biosphere’s protection from destructive solar
and galactic radiation. It is a very real threat, she says,
to the "vast cyber-electric cocoon we have encased ourselves
explains in clear, crisp prose how the planet’s magnetic
fields are generated by the swirling liquid metal at the Earth’s
core, which induces electrical currents that are accompanied by
magnetic fields. It is those fields that fend off high-velocity
solar winds and radiation.
planet, she says,
a complicated relationship with the sun. Life on Earth could
not survive without the energy the sun sends our way, but every
so often, it hurls magnetic superstorms at the Earth that are
capable of penetrating the magnetic fields.
in 1859, only 30 years or so after scientists figured out that
moving electricity generates magnetic fields and that moving magnetic
fields generate electricity. The superstorm roiled Earth’s
magnetic fields, which generated rampaging electrical currents
seeking the easiest path to flow. It turned out that the grounded,
highly conductive wiring of the world’s first large-scale
technological network — telegraph lines — was ideal.
through the wires overwhelmed telegraph systems in North America,
Europe, India and Australia. The disturbance lasted 11 days.
describes the impact of a more recent solar superstorm that hit
in October 2003, causing the Federal Aviation Administration to
issue its first-ever radiation alert. Airline flights were redirected
away from highly charged polar routes and pilots could not rely
on the disabled GPS satellites for landing guidance. Many power
grids around the world were shut down by engineers to protect
them from electrical surges. Astronauts in the International Space
Station hunkered down under extra layers of radiation shields
to wait out the deadly storm. Just about any service or equipment
using geomagnetic devices failed.
actuaries are now struggling with how to build into their policies
the risk of future magnetic meltdowns and the billions of dollars
in damages they will cause.
says the effects of the superstorm are a taste of what life will
be like when the Earth’s weakening electromagnetic fields
are no longer able to fend off the sun’s normal streams
of radiation and solar winds. The greatest danger is when the
planet’s magnetic poles reverse.
reversal of polarity has happened numerous times during Earth’s
geological history. The last time was 780,000 years ago, so no
one was around to see what actually happened.
and geophysicists have some idea. They have identified a high
correlation between pole reversals and the timing of species extinctions,
perhaps because some of the many species that navigate based on
magnetic poles for breeding and migration could not adapt quickly
enough to the change.
author of 2010’s Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis,
packs a lot of science into her latest book, but does so in generally
digestible bites, incorporating her personal experience meeting
with and interviewing the scientists leading the quest to understand
the magnetic fields, who are struggling to predict what will happen
covers quite a bit of the history of the science of electromagnetism
in The Spinning Magnet, but the strength of the book
is the last section. There, Mitchell deals with the threat to
our modern society from our dependency on the invisible magnet
fields that dance to protect us from electromagnetic disaster.
Mitchell ends on a depressing note. There are, she says, "mysterious
goings-on under the surface of this spinning magnet we live on"
that are causing the weakening of the Earth’s protective
fields. And there is not a single thing any of us can do about