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Top Story

Earth's last magnetic field reversal took far longer than once thought

Earth's magnetic field seems steady and true -- reliable enough to navigate by. Yet, largely hidden from daily life, the field drifts, waxes and wanes. The magnetic North Pole is currently shifting toward Siberia, forcing the Global Positioning System that underlies modern navigation to update its software sooner than expected. Every several hundred thousand years, the magnetic field dramatically shifts and reverses its polarity. Magnetic north flips to the geographic South Pole and, eventually, back again. This reversal has happened countless times over Earth's history, but scientists' understanding of why and how the field reverses is limited. The researchers find that the most recent field reversal 770,000 years ago took at least 22,000 years to complete, several times longer than previously thought. The results call into question controversial findings that some reversals could occur within a human lifetime.

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