Vicious solar storms are deforming the Earth's magnetic field — especially in this one spot.
NASA scientists have been tracking a strange "dent" in the Earth's magnetic field as it slowly moves westwards over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean.
The Earth's magnetic field is what protects us from highly charged particles arriving to our planet from the Sun, known as solar winds.
But scientists have noticed that this effect weakens significantly in a specific area above the South Atlantic known as the "South Atlantic Anomaly" (SAA). The area has been known for some time, but now researchers are now observing that it's moving westwards — and even splitting into two lobes, according to a NASA statement.
Experts believe the dent is caused by vicious solar storms deforming the "Van Allen Belts," two donut-shaped zones wrapping Earth that capture charged particles.
"A localized field with reversed polarity grows strongly in the SAA region, thus making the field intensity very weak, weaker than that of the surrounding regions," Weijia Kuang, a geophysicist and mathematician in Goddard’s Geodesy and Geophysics Laboratory, explained in the statement.
Taking Out Satellites
A spatial weakening in the planet's magnetic field could leave satellites passing over the SAA exposed to charged particles and relatively high levels of radiation. In the worst case, charged particles could short circuit and take out entire satellites.
That's why a team of NASA scientists are keeping close tabs on the moving "pothole in space," as the agency refers to it, by creating long-term space weather forecasts.
“Even though the SAA is slow-moving, it is going through some change in morphology, so it’s also important that we keep observing it by having continued missions,” Terry Sabaka, a geophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the statement. “Because that’s what helps us make models and predictions.”
READ MORE: NASA Researchers Track Slowly Splitting 'Dent' in Earth’s Magnetic Field [NASA]
More on the Earth's magnetic field: Scientists: Earth's Magnetic Field Could Shift 100x Faster Than Observed