Researchers have found a huge, ever-growing oddity in the Earth’s magnetic field

Fareeha Arshad
Photo byPhoto by NASA on Unsplash

NASA is closely monitoring a peculiar phenomenon known as the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA), a large region of reduced magnetic intensity in Earth’s magnetic field stretching from South America to southwest Africa. While the SAA does not directly affect life on Earth, it poses risks to satellites and spacecraft that pass through it due to the weakened magnetic field strength.

The exposure to high-energy protons from the Sun within the anomaly can cause malfunctions and damage to technological systems on board. NASA is actively tracking the SAA using its extensive resources and research capabilities to mitigate these hazards and take advantage of the opportunity to study this complex phenomenon.

Electrical currents generate Earth’s magnetic field in the swirling ocean of molten iron in the planet’s outer core. However, the presence of the African Large Low Shear Velocity Province, a dense rock reservoir beneath Africa, disrupts the generation of the magnetic field, resulting in the weakening effect observed in the SAA. Additionally, a localised field with reversed polarity contributes to the overall weak magnetic intensity in the region. Scientists are continuously gaining new insights into the anomaly, including the discovery that it is slowly drifting northwest and splitting into two cells of minimum magnetic intensity.

Recent research indicates that the SAA is not a recent occurrence but a recurrent magnetic event that may have existed for millions of years. This suggests that it is not a precursor to a complete reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, a rare event that occurs over hundreds of thousands of years. Although many questions remain unanswered, NASA’s monitoring of the SAA provides valuable data for modelling and predictions.

The evolving nature of the SAA emphasises the importance of ongoing observation through continued missions. NASA’s commitment to studying this phenomenon helps improve our understanding of Earth’s magnetic field and enables the development of models and predictions.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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