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98. Pulling The Poles

28 Apr

MISCONCEPTION: My compass points to the North Pole! How groovily convenient. In fact I could just follow my compass and head towards the north pole if I wanted. Just listen to the needle, needles are always right.

TRUTH: There are two sets of North and South Poles on this earth. They do not exist in the same place.

One is constant and the other shifts. Initially one finds the traditional, stalwart and trustworthy geographic north pole, exactly opposite to the geographic south pole. Both are near-constant, the line between skewers the earth and spins us around is like some demented roundabout.

Then we have the lithe and shifty magnetic poles. These are the things that cause Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. They also move. They are also not even directly opposite, just because the Earth’s magnetic field isn’t symmetrical. This, is what your compass points to, if you have a compass that is.

So why are they moving? The answer is a massive and very hot pile of molten metal which spins like a dizzy corkscrew. It is the core of the earth and it generates the whole magnetic field due to something complex known as the dynamo effect which I shan’t bore you with. Anyway, as with any large molten mass it has flaws, whenever it changes, the positioning of the magnetic poles changes.

This didn’t use to be by much, just a few hundred kilometres here and there… until humanity came along with its computers, washing machines and extremely fancy digital watches. You need to understand this one thing, and if you don’t please just trust me, electricity and magnetism are the same thing, one causes the other and so on, any computer you’ve seen? Produces a small magnetic field. Your tiny phone? Produces a magnetic field. The electrical impulses in your brain? Even they cause a small magnetic field around your head.

Carrying that on it is a small step to say that if you get a lot of small electrical things together one gets a large magnetic field out of all of the smaller ones. Simple. Think about society then. Today there are more electronic devices in existence than people. Each of which will eventually be replaced by 2 other gadgets. We are living at a time when we live with what some would say is a heckload o’ stuff. That has its effect: the cumulative effects of humanity’s electronics obsession is warping and twisting the earth’s magnetic field, we are moving where the compass points, we who walk the world, warp it in our wake.

Right now the magnetic north pole is on the move, heading towards Russia at a pace of 60 kilometres a year, that speed will only increase. In fact by the year 2327, the North Pole will be located in mid-Kansas, while the South Pole will be just off the coast of East Africa.

The gap between the two poles, larger than many countries.

So there we go, you cannot follow a compass to the North Pole. In fact, if you did so right now you would miss by about 971 kilometres. So good luck with that.

 

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