For a hundred years, scientists looked for the answer to a perplexing question. In 1859 British astronomers observed what we now call a solar flare. The next day there was a disturbance of Earth’s magnetic field called a geomagnetic storm. Scientists were puzzled over what was happening. After a century of study, the answer came down to solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield.
In 1958, American astrophysicist Eugene Parker described the phenomenon and named it “solar wind.” The solar wind consists of charged particles ejected from the corona (extended outer layer) of the Sun and traveling at high speed into space. This material is plasma, a mixture of negative electrons and positive ions. Since electric charges and magnetic fields interact, the planet’s magnetic field steers the solar wind away from the planet’s surface when it reaches Earth. Because Earth’s magnetic field originates from the North and South poles, we see the interaction in those regions as beautiful auroras, the Northern and Southern lights.
What if Earth did not have a magnetic field? The solar wind would reach Earth’s surface and significantly damage living cells, bringing an end to life. Our neighboring planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury have little or no magnetic field and therefore are bombarded by the solar wind.
Why is our planet different? Why do we have the protection of a magnetic field? The motion of the molten iron in Earth’s core produces the magnetic field. Why does Earth have a molten iron core? Heat generated by the decay of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium keeps the iron core from becoming solid.
The bottom line is this: Hidden inside our planet is a magnetic-field generator powered by unseen radioactivity that gives us an invisible magnetic shield protecting us from invisible destructive particles coming from the Sun. This same process also gives us beautiful auroras we enjoy watching. The solar wind and Earth’s magnetic shield give us one more example of the beautiful design of the planet we call home. Did this all happen by accident? We don’t think so.
NASA posted this picture on apod.nasa.gov on April 8, 2019. Yang Suite took the photo in northern Norway of a phenomenon that lasted about 30 minutes. Witnesses said that colorful clouds, dots, and plumes suddenly appeared. Can you imagine what would have happened if the sky over Washington D.C. had been filled with what you see in this picture? Are they space aliens?
In this case, the picture is of a NASA-funded project called Auroral Zone Upwelling Rocket Experiment (AZURE). Gas tracers were dispersed from two short-lived rockets into the ionosphere at altitudes of 70 to 150 miles (112-240 km). The goal was to measure how the solar wind transfers energy to the Earth and powers auroras. Science still has much to learn about the design of the solar system and how something like an aurora takes place. So are they space aliens? No, and anytime we can see something that we don’t understand, we should seek to understand it and recognize the design and intelligence that is involved. The more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.
On October 6 NASA’s daily space news website apod.nasa.gov contained pictures of a Martian global aurora. Because Mars has virtually no magnetic field, the radiation level goes sky high during solar storms. In the latest storm, radiation levels doubled–which would have been dangerous to life on Mars.
Earth’s magnetic field is very strong, and deflects radiation coming from the Sun. The radiation is deflected toward the poles, which is why we see the auroras near the poles. By deflecting the radiation, the magnetic field protects life on the Earth from dangerous levels. The more we learn about the cosmos, the more we see factors that make life possible on Earth. Our magnetic field is one more example of the design of our planet.
Looking for life in space is not just about whether there is water on a planet. There are a huge number of other factors that must be present. A strong magnetic field to shield from radiation is just one of those factors. Of course, an atmosphere suitable for life is also a requirement. NASA has a space probe called MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) orbiting Mars. The purpose is to find out if Mars lost its atmosphere due to not having a strong magnetic field.