The Spinning Magnet is a new popular-science book from Penguin Random House that delves into the mystery of Earths invisible, life-supporting power — the electromagnetic force that created the modern world and one day could even destroy it.
Alanna Mitchells globe-trotting history of the science of electromagnetism and the Earths magnetic field — right up to recent discussions that the North and South Poles could soon reverse, with apocalyptic results –may change the way some people think about our planet.
It introduces intriguing characters from the thirteenth-century French investigations into magnetism and the Victorian-era discover that electricity and magnetism emerge from the same fundamental force to recent research. She tells how the Earth itself came to be seen as a magnet, spinning in space with two poles, and that those poles have dramatically reversed many times, often coinciding with mass extinctions. The most recent reversal was 780,000 years ago.
The book explores indications that the Earths magnetic force field is decaying faster than previously thought. When the poles switch, a process that takes many years, the Earth is unprotected from solar radiation storms that would, among other disturbances, threaten electromagnetic technology. Navigation for animals can be disrupted without a stable, magnetic North Pole but can you imagine disruption of satellites, Internet, smartphones and power grids?
The book is a narrative history written in laymans terms, illuminating invisible parts of our planet that are constantly changing around us. Mitchell, a science journalist, is also the author of Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, which won the Grantham Prize for excellence in environmental journalism.