Feeds

ROBOT SWARM positions itself over EARTH ... to probe our magnetic field

For the poles, they are a-changin'

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

The European Space Agency has successfully deployed its trio of mapping satellites, dubbed Swarm, and is ready to start some serious scanning of the Earth's changing magnetic fields.

The Swarm payload was launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Northern Russia on Friday evening and has now split into its three constituent satellites. Two will orbit the Earth in tandem on a polar path at an altitude of 450km, while the third will fly above them at 530km once the the launch and early orbit phase (LEOP) is complete.

"We've had a trouble-free LEOP and the satellites are performing beyond expectation," said flight operations director Pier Paolo Emanuelli in a statement. "We're looking forward to an excellent mission."

The ESA team is now focused on starting up the Swarm's main telemetry systems in preparation for magnetic mapping operations. The mission is going to help scientists understand the strange phenomenon of magnetic-pole shifts that the Earth is currently undergoing.

While early explorers thought the magnetic poles on our planet were fixed, geological evidence shows that they change roughly every 250,000 years – but as far as geoscientists can tell, they haven't shifted significantly in over double that time period since their last big switchover.

But NASA reports that the Earth's magnetic North Pole has been moving further north at a rate of 40 miles per year, four times the speed it displayed a century ago. At the same time, the magnetic field is weakening slightly.

The Earth's magnetic field is a key element in protecting the fragile life forms on the surface from dangerous solar radiation. While you would expect this protection to lessen somewhat during a shift in poles, it's nothing too much to worry about, Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist at Stanford's Wilcox Solar Observatory told The Reg.

"The same systems that are vulnerable now, such as power systems, would face increased risks, but your radio and telephone are still going to work. And this isn't something that happens overnight – we'd have a warning," he said.

Hoeksema is something of an expert in the field and has been mapping the Sun's magnetic pole shift, which has been ongoing for the last year. But he told us that the Earth's poles are expected to shift from a binary pole system to one with four poles. This will pose something of a problem for compass makers, but life as we know it will still carry on just fine, he said.

ESA's Swarm mission will now spend the next four years mapping our magnetosphere, how it reacts with solar winds, and how the rate of change is proceeding. A full magnetic shift should take a thousand years or so, so no need to panic yet. ®

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.