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Science News: Northern Lights Shifting to South Due to Earth Weakening Magnetic Field

Northern Lights
(Photo : Flickr / Greenland Travel / CC)

A new study has revealed that the northern lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are shifting to southern regions due to the weakening magnetic fields of Earth.

Despite this, the scientists who conducted the study noted that this is not an indicator that the fields will flip soon.

As suggested by their names, the northern lights are spectacular natural light shows that can be commonly seen in the Northern Hemisphere. However, due to the changes caused by the weakening of the planet's magnetic fields, these lights are shifting south, HNGN has learned.

According to the scientists, these lights could begin to appear in Ottawa and other southern regions of the U.S.

The scientists explained that the weakening magnetic fields affect how they are able to interact with the solar winds emitted by the sun. With strong fields, these winds, which contain charged particles, are deflected to higher latitudes.

But, given the current condition of the Earth's magnetic fields, the solar winds will most likely be pused to lower latitudes.

"The Earth's magnetic field more or less keeps the solar wind at bay, and it's the solar wind interacting with the field that contributes to the auroras," Dennis Kent, one of the authors of the study and a paleomagnetism expert at the Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said in a statement according to National Post.

"With a strong field, that interaction is pushed to high latitudes," he added. "With a weaker field more of the Earth is bathed in these charged particles."

The scientists were able to come up with their findings after closely examining the magnetic rocks that were produced by volcanic eruptions. Since these rocks contain iron, they tend to align themselves with Earth's magnetic field, The Monitor Daily reported.

After determining the age of the rocks, the scientists were able to learn their orientation or the direction they were facing. According to the scientists, the shift in the orientation of the rocks is a telltale sign of weakening magnetic fields.

They noted that for the past 200 years, the planet's magnetic fields have weakened by around 10 percent. Once the fields significantly weaken, Earth poles could shift. This natural phenomenon could then destabilize Earth's magnetic field which could leave the planet vulnerable to cosmic radiation and charged particles from the sun.

However, Kent said that although his team discovered signs of weakening, Earth's magnetic field is still pretty stable compared to its previous condition hundreds of years ago. This means the Earth north and south poles are not in danger of flipping anytime soon. If this happens, it will probably occur thousands of years from now.

The study conducted by the scientists was published on November 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tags Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, Earth, Magnetic Field, Science, Study

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