The vast magnetic field encompassing our planet serves as the first layer of defence against the harmful solar winds and cosmic rays. However, the auroras lighting up the polar skies with thousands of watts of power are proof for it not being entirely impenetrable. Earth’s magnetic field has played an integral role in facilitating radio communication, supporting life forms and influencing weather patterns that the slightest of changes in its configuration will have a significant effect on life on earth.
What’s worrying is the fact that the magnetosphere has been proved to not as secure as once it was thought to be by the GRAPES-3 muon telescope at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Ooty. A massive burst of galactic cosmic rays of about 20GeV which lasted for about two hours was recorded on 22nd June, 2015. A stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun’s corona moving at a speed of about 2.5 million kilometres per hour bombarded the earth’s surface resulting in the compression of the geomagnetic field of the earth from 11 times its radius to 4 times its radius. It triggered a supermassive geomagnetic storm which resulted in a supercharged aurora borealis and a radio signal blackout in the high latitude countries giving us one an idea about the transient weakening of the earth’s magnetic field.
Recently, a study was published in the Physical Review Letters revealing the extent of the effect of this high intensity event. The data collected by the telescope was extensively analysed and interpreted with the help of external simulations to give out the verdict that the earth’s magnetic field was temporarily cracked letting low energy galactic cosmic rays to enter our atmosphere.
Scientists at the Cosmic Ray Laboratory came to the conclusion that the storm was powerful enough to trigger the reconfiguration of the geomagnetic field.
The GRAPES-3 muon telescope, the largest and the most sensitive cosmic ray monitor operating on earth, is playing a significant in the detection and analysis of such superstorms to give us a better understanding about how they can cripple modern technological infrastructure on earth.
In the past two centuries, the earth’s magnetic field has significantly weakened, allowing such events to occur which is considered to be a telltale sign of an overdue flip in Earth’s polarity. With the foundation of the technology on earth being incapacitated, one really cannot expect what the future holds for us.