© Scott Bogue
Frozen Flip
Just north of a truck stop along Interstate 80 in Battle Mountain, Nevada, lies evidence that the Earth's magnetic field once went haywire.

Magnetic minerals in 15-million-year-old rocks appear to preserve a moment when the magnetic north pole was rapidly on its way to becoming the south pole, and vice versa. Such "geomagnetic field reversals" occur every couple hundred thousand years, normally taking about 4,000 years to make the change. The Nevada rocks suggest that this particular switch happened at a remarkably fast clip.

Anyone carrying a compass would have seen its measurements skew by about a degree a week - a flash in geologic time. A paper describing the discovery is slated to appear in Geophysical Research Letters.

It is only the second report of such a speedy change in geomagnetic direction. The first, described in 1995 based on rocks at Steens Mountain, Oregon, has never gained widespread acceptance in the paleomagnetism community. A second example could bolster the theory that reversals really can happen quickly, over the course of years or centuries instead of millennia.

"We're trying to make the case that [the new work] is another record of a superfast magnetic change," says lead author Scott Bogue, a geologist at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Image
© G.Glatzmaier/Los Alamos National Laboratory/P.Roberts/UCLA/SPL
On the flip, in record time

Read the full article on Wired.com