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The satellite Swarm: why we should care to know more about Earth's magnetic field

The Earth as seen from space.
The Earth as seen from space.
NASA Goddard Photo and Video

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As modern technology has developed, much of our infrastructure has grown beyond its dependence upon the Earth’s magnetic field to function. But many businesses still rely upon a magnetic compass for navigation. What’s more, our magnetosphere is our greatest defense against the solar wind (charged particles constantly being hurled our way by the Sun) and solar flares that have the potential to severely cripple life as we know it.

Given the importance of our magnetic field, we should probably know as much about it as possible. So the European Space Agency (ESA) has set out to do just that – the Swarm mission, set to launch in July, will launch three precisely calibrated satellites to monitor and map our magnetic field more accurately than ever before. The data collected from the mission should give new insights into exactly how much the magnetic field shifts and weakens. So how much do we gain to learn about our magnetic field, and why should we care? The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, is here to field your questions…


Phil Plait, astronomer and author of Discover Magazine’s "Bad Astronomy" blog; author of "Death from the Skies!" blog