Friday, January 7, 2011

Magnetic flux to blame?

Magnets are an interesting piece of technology.

I bet the first time you were given a pair of magnets to play with, you spent hours, marveling at the invisible force that could create both attraction and repulsion between them.

Technology based on magnetism has been around for centuries, probably ever since man first discovered that a lodestone, or piece of iron magnetized by such a stone, would constantly attempt to orient itself in a north/south direction.

Since then we've seen a huge amount of technology which relies on magnetism developed and refined until today, it's a crucial part of almost every electronic system, device and gizmo we own.

All electric motors and generators rely on magnetism for their function.

Even the very radios, TVs, WiFi, cellphones and other "wireless" devices we use transfer their faint signals by creating invisible lines of magnetic flux.

However, let's look back at those early compasses again...

They work by the interaction of the earth's own magnetic field and the magnetic field of a suitably magnetized rod or wire. When suspended on a low-friction bearing, that rod will constantly try to turn until its south pole faces the earth's magnetic north pole -- that's because, when it comes to magnetic poles, opposites attract.

By using compasses, travelers have been able to cross huge distances and reach distant places without getting lost. However, the accuracy of such devices relies on the location of the earth's own magnetic poles -- and they're on the move.

In fact, according to this report, they've moved so much that at least airport runway has had to be re-designated -- since they are named by their compass bearing.

Could this be the precursor of the long-predicted magnetic-flip of the earth's magnetic poles?

It has been documented that throughout the earth's history, the north and south poles have changed places a number of times and there is a belief that we are now long-overdue such a reversal. Sometimes this change can be very rapid, something that has been unimportant due to the fact that the last reversal was over 700,000 years ago, long before it would be an issue to the creatures on the planet.

Doomsayers are now also attempting to link this rapid and unexpected change in the earth's magnetic field to the world-wide phenomenon of birds dying in large numbers, sometimes simply falling from the sky for no apparent reason. It is well known that some birds rely on an internal compass to help them with flight and migration -- could the magnetic field now be changing so rapidly as to confuse and bewilder these creatures?

Scientists say "no". Apparently there is no scientific evidence to suggest that there is any change significant enough to cause this kind of mass death amongst our feathered friends.

However, it is worth considering the effects that a rapid pole-reversal may have on the delicate and highly sensitive electronic devices we rely on so heavily today.

If the reversal were extremely rapid, it's possible that large currents could be induced in any conductor through which the lines of flux passed. The effect of this could be to cause major power outages across the face of the globe -- such as those experienced during severe solar storms.

Any instrumentation which involves the measurement of minute magnetic fields would also be at risk of overload and corruption. Even the satellites that orbit far above the earth could be affected by the rapid changes in magnetic flux such a reversal could create.

Do we have any contingencies in place to deal with this kind of natural disaster?

I suspect not.

The Y2K bug has nothing on pole-reversal. Let's hope the scaremongers don't get too enthusiastic about all this -- after all, the end of the Mayan calendar is less than two years away.

Spooky stuff -- or not.

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