The Space “Pothole” That’s Causing Quite A Bit of Concern Among Scientists
by Trisha Leigh
My favorite thing about anomalies in space is how they cause people who know a lot about astronomy and astrophysics to completely panic…all while they’re assuring the rest of us that we’re probably not going to die.
At least, not immediately.
This time it’s Earth’s magnetic field – which does little things like allow compass navigation and shielding us from the worst of the sun’s rays – that’s responsible for the community panic.
If you’re thinking of a physical dent, though, walk that back – it’s basically a region in the sky between South America and Africa where the magnetic field is weaker than it is anywhere else.
They assure us that it’s not life threatening, but it is affecting the satellites we’ve launched into orbit. They travel within our magnetic field, which allows them protection from things like data loss and component damage that can occur if they’re exposed to too much of the sun’s energy.
Right now, the people running those craft power them down before they enter the region, and NASA has been monitoring the “pothole” in an attempt to figure out what’s causing it (and hoping that it doesn’t get worse).
They think it’s caused by a reservoir of dense rock underground. It’s called the African Large Low Shear Velocity Province, and the issue is the way it disrupts the flow of molten metal in the outer core of the earth.
Some researchers think it’s a sign that we need to brace ourselves for something like Earth’s magnetic field eventually “flipping,” which would have serious consequences for our electronics and other systems.
There are others who think this event has happened many times in the millions of years Earth has existed, and that we’re not looking at anything significant at all.
NASA is going to continue to monitor the “pothole” until they think they truly understand what’s causing it, whether it’s getting bigger, and if the low-key panic is justified.
Until then, I’m quite sure life is going to continue as normal – except for those satellites that need to be powered down and back up again to deal with the issue.