"Now about the sphere magnet. If you have a strong magnet you can change the poles in the sphere in any side you want or take the poles out so the sphere will not be a magnet any more. From this you can see that the metal is not the real magnet. The real magnet is the substance that is circulating in the metal. Each particle in the substance is an individual magnet by itself, and both North and South Pole individual magnets. They are so small that they can pass through anything. In fact, they can pass through metal easier than through the air. They are in constant motion, they are running one kind of magnet against the other kind, and if guided in the right channels they possess perpetual power. The North and South Pole magnets are cosmic force. They hold together this earth and everything in it." -- Edward Leedskalnin, stone mason, 1945
New Scientist: Second super-fast flip of Earth's poles found.
SOME 16 million years ago, north became south in a matter of years. Such fast flips are impossible, according to models of the Earth's core, but this is now the second time that evidence has been found.
The magnetic poles swap every 300,000 years, a process that normally takes up to 5000 years. In 1995 an ancient lava flow with an unusual magnetic pattern was discovered in Oregon. It suggested that the field at the time was moving by 6 degrees a day - at least 10,000 times faster than usual. "Not many people believed it," says Scott Bogue of Occidental College in Los Angeles.
Now Bogue and his colleague Jonathan Glen of the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, say they have found a second example in Nevada. The lava rock suggests that in one year, Earth's magnetic field shifted by 53 degrees (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2010GL044286). At that rate, a full flip would take less than four years, but there could be another interpretation. "It may have been a burst of rapid acceleration that punctuated the steady movement of the field," says Bogue.
Peter Olson of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, remains sceptical and points out that the effects could have been local rather than global.
Earth is overdue for a reversal, and rapid shifts would cause widespread chaos - for navigation and migratory birds for instance.