North is north. Your compass says so. Navigate with a compass and a map and quickly learn that the North Pole and the South Pole are points on the axis the Earth spins around, not the site of the magnetic pole. The two north poles are about 500 miles apart. The magnetic poles are moving. Scientists have known this for years, and have also learned that occasionally they will flip. The Earth keeps spinning, but the magnetic fields switch from north to south and south to north. That may seem innocuous, but the magnetic fields are what protect us from a large quantity of radiation. While we know the poles flip, we don’t know how long it takes, how it happens, or how disruptive it can be naturally. Because we rely on technology, it may also disrupt communications and power transmission, much more than just flipping a compass needle. Evidence suggests the field has been collapsing for about 160 years across a region called the “South Atlantic Anomaly.” Guess where that’s happening. The last time it happened was 780,000 years ago. Hopefully, the reversal happens far in the future, but for now we are hampered by our limited data history. It may be archaeologists who find ways to uncover evidence thanks to early humans. In the meantime, a new magnetic pole may be forming closer to the tropics than the arctic regions.

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