Earth’s magnetic field is undergoing some weird changes and scientists are more curious than ever. The South Atlantic Anomaly is a dent located above South America, near the Atlantic Ocean.
This dent is in Earth’s magnetic field and has been growing for decades now. While it is not visible to us from the ground, satellites in our orbit are always observing this dent. There have been some changes to it over the years and NASA scientists carefully observe it to see if it causes any trouble for the satellites.
Earth’s magnetic field essentially blocks the charged particles that the Sun throws our way. With this in place, the protective barrier is not fully functional and allows more radiation to enter. When our satellites pass this region, this bombardment of radiation triggers automatic shutdowns. A NASA statement mentions how this shutting down is a protective measure against the radiation permanently harming the hardware of the satellites.
ICON and Earth’s Magnetic Field
One of the most important spacecraft that regularly flies over this dent is the International Space Station. But the ISS has extra layers to protect the scientists and astronauts who work inside. Other satellites passing over the dent in Earth’s magnetic field send NASA important data of the observations they make in this region. The Ionospheric Connection Explorer was launched in 2019 partly to monitor the dented area. ICON was retired from its Solar, Anomalous, and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX) mission in 2012. ICON and other observing crafts have shown how the dent has been moving towards the West while splitting into two.
NASA explains how these observations are extremely important. Studying Earth’s magnetic field is quite complex since it’s essentially a representation of how liquid metal moves inside the planet’s core. It is shaped by the many phenomena that are emanating from the core.
In an area stretching from Africa to South America, Earth’s magnetic field is gradually weakening. Scientists are using data from @esa_swarm to improve our understanding of this area known as the ‘South Atlantic Anomaly’ 👉 https://t.co/ZqTBA9DmX4 pic.twitter.com/klc5SS7zYo
— ESA (@esa) May 20, 2020
The data ICON and other devices collect can eventually be used to study and understand many other things. The data can be used to better warn our satellites about approaching dangers. It can also give us detailed understanding of the workings inside the planet while helping us predict what problems the dent might cause in the future.
Terry Sabaka is a geophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland that works under NASA. Sabaka explained how the South Atlantic Anomaly in the Earth’s magnetic field is moving very slowly and going through morphological changes. Hence it is important for the organizations to keep observing the dent with continued missions. The data received from such missions helps the scientist make models and future predictions.
Featured image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center