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Photo credit: Todd Salat

Study reveals that northern lights are shifting South; what it says about Earth’s magnetic field

In decades to come, those who live in Ottawa will be treated to a colorful spectacle hosted by their skies. A recent study has revealed that the northern lights are shifting south from the Arctic and will be making frequent appearances in the skies over Ottawa.

The Earth’s magnetic fields continue to gradually weaken. This will affect how solar wind (charged particles from the sun) bounces off of it.

Researchers predict that in time the aurora borealis, or northern lights, will reach as far as the southern United States. In recent years, the northern lights have even been witnessed in countries such as Germany and Denmark.

“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,” explained Dennis Kent, who works at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Kent is an expert in paleomagnetism; he recently co-authored a paper published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, PNAS, a major research journal. The paper focuses on the weakening of Earth’s magnetic fields and suggests that it was once unusually high, but now, it’s starting to retreat to a new long-term average.

In the last two centuries, the Earth’s magnetic field has weakened by about 10 percent. So what is the outcome of this, aside from the light show that is the aurora borealis? It is a potential “flip” of magnetic fields and a reversal of the Earth’s north and south poles.

Some scientists believe that the current weakening is a sign that our planet is due for another “flip.” Kent believes that this is unlikely as the magnetic fields, although weakening, are currently stronger than their long term average.

For now, we just get to enjoy the magic that is the northern lights.

About Cindy Pereira

Cindy Pereira is a recent graduate of the Professional Writing program formerly offered at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. When she isn't dishing out the news, she can be found scrawling poetry, watching films, and drinking copious amounts of tea.