August 22, 2022
The Magnetosphere – Existence of Life
An invisible force that makes life on Earth possible
The existence of life strongly depends on the precise, non-coincidental arrangement of many natural phenomena. Some of these life-sustaining characteristics of Earth are invisible to the human eye. For example, the composition of the gases in our atmosphere, which allows creatures to breathe, and plants to manufacture foodstuffs literally ‘out of thin air’. Or the ozone layer that protects life from deadly ultraviolet light.
One such invisible marvel is our planet’s radiation shield, called its magnetosphere. Its life-sustaining attributes strongly indicate deliberate design.
A magnetosphere is the region that surrounds an astronomical object (like a planet, or a star) in which charged particles are affected by that object’s magnetic field. Several planets in our solar system have magnetospheres, but Earth has the most pronounced and robust one of all the rocky planets.Blanc, M., Kallenbach, R., and Erkaev, N.V., Solar system magnetospheres, Space Science Reviews116(1–2):227–298, 2005.
Earth’s magnetosphere plays a vital role in our planet’s ability to sustain life. Tascione, T., Introduction to the Space Environment, 2nd edn, Krieger Publishing, Malabar, FL, 2010.
Similar to the ‘force field’ of science fiction, the magnetosphere creates a powerful obstacle to cosmic radiation bombarding our planet continuously. Cosmic radiation consists of various energetic charged particles—electrons, and the nuclei of various elements stripped bare of electrons—and has two components:
- Solar Often called the solar wind, this continuous strong stream of charged particles emitted from the sun makes up the bulk of cosmic radiation. It consists mostly of electrons, protons (hydrogen nucl‹ei), and alpha particles (helium nuclei). To give some idea of just how powerful this is, the total mass of the particles ejected by the sun each second is around 1.5 million tonnes!
- Galactic Most of this radiation is thought to come from within our own galaxy from supernovas (massive explosions as some stars ‘die’). In earlier writing especially, the term ‘cosmic radiation’ often refers to this component. It contains many of the bare nuclei of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, often travelling at much faster speeds than the solar wind. As such high-energy cosmic rays impact our atmosphere, they release showers of other, secondary, particles as well.
If this radiation were allowed to bombard the surface of our planet, it would have extremely damaging effects on all life. However, the existence of the magnetosphere deflects most of this from ever reaching us. This is because of the way in which a magnetic field exerts a force on a charged particle moving through it.
Constant bombardment by the solar wind ‘compresses’ the sun-facing side of our magnetic field. The sun-facing side, or dayside, extends about six to ten times the radius of the earth. The side of the magnetosphere facing away from the sun—the nightside—stretches out into an immense magnetotail, which fluctuates in length and can measure hundreds of Earth radii, far past the moon’s orbit at sixty Earth radii.Van Allen, J.A., Origins of Magnetospheric Physics: An Expanded Edition, University of Iowa Press, 2004.
Protecting from harm
Without this protective sheath, our planet would be continuously showered by these damaging and harmful rays. Astronauts in space are less protected, so they are potentially exposed to high levels of such radiation. This is an occupational health hazard that space agencies seek to mitigate. The most common effects of cosmic rays and solar wind on the unshielded human body are damage to the cardiovascular system, i.e. the heart and blood vessels, leading to hardening and narrowing of the arteries, for example.
By damaging DNA within cells, radiation exposure can lead to cancer and significantly hinder neurogenesis, the process of generating new cells in the brain.
Space agencies are concerned, too, about the effects of this radiation on the reproductive health of both male and female astronauts. The harmful effects could include an increased risk of passing on genetic damage (mutations) to the next generation.Mishra, B. and Luderer, U., Reproductive hazards of space travel in women and men, Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 15:713–730, 2019. Buis, A., Earth’s magnetosphere: protecting our planet from harmful space energy, climate.nasa.gov/news, 3 Aug 2021.
Perhaps the most significant shielding aspect provided by the magnetosphere is the protection of our atmosphere—the envelope of gases surrounding the earth. The solar wind is so powerful, it could easily rip through Earth’s atmosphere devouring and stripping off the gases necessary to support life. The powerful shielding effect created by the magnetosphere shrouds these atmospheric gases and protects them from harmful decay.Buis, A., Earth’s magnetosphere: protecting our planet from harmful space energy, climate.nasa.gov/news, 3 Aug 2021.
Intriguingly, the solar wind itself provides another life-protecting force field. In 2019, the Voyager 2 probe showed that the solar wind provides a strong barrier to the most intense interstellar radiation. Solar wind produces a huge bubble called the heliosphere, which extends 27 billion km (17 billion miles) from the sun—several times further than our planets. Past the boundary, called the heliopause, Voyager 2 found that the radiation was far more intense. A report explains, “The protective heliosphere shields everything inside it, including our fragile DNA, from most of the galaxy’s highest-energy radiation.”Greshko, M., Interstellar space even weirder than expected, NASA probe reveals, nationalgeographic.com, 4 Nov 2019. See also creation.com/heliopause.
Even though this world is fallen (Genesis 3), evidence of design continually overwhelms our senses. It does not take much rational thought to conclude that our material existence is the result of design in contrast to accidental, evolutionary causes. From the macro to the micro, the elements of our material existence are finely balanced and operate with intricate, shared precision.
Some of the most remarkable findings of modern physics and cosmology, especially the indications that our universe and its laws seem remarkably tailored to sustain life, support this point of view. The Apostle Paul writes about the identity of the Designer, the Lord Jesus Christ:
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16–17).
About the Author: Dr. Corrado earned a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from Colorado State University and an M.Div. from NationsUniversity. He is a member of the NationsUniverstiy faculty and freelance contributor to the NationsUniversity blog Applied Apologetics and the Institute for Creation Research’s Creation Science Update. He works in the nuclear industry and is a senior officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
|↑1||Blanc, M., Kallenbach, R., and Erkaev, N.V., Solar system magnetospheres, Space Science Reviews116(1–2):227–298, 2005.|
|↑2||Tascione, T., Introduction to the Space Environment, 2nd edn, Krieger Publishing, Malabar, FL, 2010.|
|↑3||Van Allen, J.A., Origins of Magnetospheric Physics: An Expanded Edition, University of Iowa Press, 2004.|
|↑4||Mishra, B. and Luderer, U., Reproductive hazards of space travel in women and men, Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 15:713–730, 2019.|
|↑5||Buis, A., Earth’s magnetosphere: protecting our planet from harmful space energy, climate.nasa.gov/news, 3 Aug 2021.|
|↑6||Buis, A., Earth’s magnetosphere: protecting our planet from harmful space energy, climate.nasa.gov/news, 3 Aug 2021.|
|↑7||Greshko, M., Interstellar space even weirder than expected, NASA probe reveals, nationalgeographic.com, 4 Nov 2019. See also creation.com/heliopause.|