What If? Rules of Attraction By Jacques d’Angleterre with Kermit Woodall

We know you’ve always wondered: What happens if the Earth’s magnetic field increased in strength exponentially? Here’s an illustrated science guide to that very question!

Imagine that the lizard-people cabal running all the science labs in the government mess up their super-science and now Earth’s magnetic field doubles in strength each day. What does the next 12 months look like?

After a year, the Earth’s magnetic field reaches strengths 10^108 times greater than the previous year. This is big. Very big. Bigger than your mammalian brain can instinctively understand. It’s a 1 followed by 108 zeros. That exponential growth is important.

Let’s do some back of the envelope calculations to show just how this will effect everything.

First, a comparison, consider a magnetar (Wikipedia: a magnetar is a type of neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field. The magnetic field decay powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays) has a magnetic field strength of approximately 10 gigateslas (109); Earth’s is about 25 microteslas (2.5*10^-5). (note: a Tesla is a derived unit of magnetic flux density)

After 3 days, the Earth has a 100 microtesla field. Just outside regular limits, not so you’d notice.

After a week we start to notice things. The magnetic field now has a 1.6 millitesla field. Auroras would be brighter. Electronics may act up.

After two weeks, it would have a one Tesla field. This is about as strong a magnet as you can buy commercially, but on a planetary scale. I wouldn’t want to be relying on any electricity sources or stand near magnets. Computers would stop functioning.

In four more days, you’re reaching 16T, which is enough to levitate a frog against gravity just by magnetic attraction of the water in it. Look it up, it’s fun (even for the frog). Enjoy flying while you can. Things go downhill (or uphill) quickly from there.

After a month, the field would be about 20 kiloteslas. This is about 200 times stronger than the most powerful magnet made. Say goodbye to your credit card, your stored information, your hard drives, and your brain. Electrons are stripped from matter as everything starts to form a plasma. A planet wide plasma.

After another half a month, Earth would be as strong as a magnetar, at around ten gigateslas. These things can suck the electrons right out of your body from a distance of a thousand kilometers, and you’re living right in it. So within fifty days, Earth has become the most magnetic object in the universe, and the chemistry of life and computation as we know it is impossible.

Earth would start moving significant mass to the magnetic poles at this point, making itself look like an hourglass. Gravity and magnetism would fight, and over the next few hours, it would further collapse in on itself as mass rushes to the two poles.

At some point in the next few minutes, the field becomes so strong that nuclei are stretched into spindles, spaghettified 200 times more narrow than they are normally.

What happens after is in the realm of imagination. We’re less than seven weeks in, and we’re stretching the laws of the universe to their limit. When you do that, naturally, a singularity arises. So, it’s black hole Earth.

At some point, the magnetic field will get so strong that atoms themselves will collapse into neutrons; neutrons into quark-gluon plasma, and that into a singularity. Photons themselves split and merge. This, thanks to the exponential growth of the magnetic field, will happen in mere hours, then seconds, then microseconds after each other.

But let’s assume that our field keeps growing; we have a black hole with a very strong magnetic field indeed. Gravitationally, its very weak; size wise, a mere nine millimeters across. But magnetically, it would be able to strip electrons from the moon within another fortnight or so. Although the magnetic force generally drops off proportionally to the inverse fourth power of distance, the exponential growth of the field quickly outpaces this. The moon quickly ceases to exist, its individual particles, which have a magnetic moment, will be sucked in and accelerated into X ray and gamma ray bursts at the poles of our magnet.

Another ten days later, around day 75, the sun itself is caught up in the magnetic trap. Not even three months after “the event”, the whole sun’s mass energy is converted to high energy X rays and cosmic particles. Five billion years of pent up mass-energy released in seconds. Fortunately, any gamma ray bursts will be going away from the plane of the elliptic, so there’s not too much of a chance that local interstellar civilizations will be wiped out by the gamma ray events at Sol III.

Three days later, the magnetic field of the Earth overpowers the particles on Jupiter; and a day later the outer planets up to Pluto come calling.

79 days, and the whole solar system is converted to a black hole, or accelerated and ejected as cosmic rays into the void as each elementary particle is accelerated into the Earth’s field.

From this time on, things physically slow down. The sheer distances between stars will stop anything happening for the rest of the year as the Earth’s field grows in strength. At some point the mass-energy localized in the field will cause the field itself to undergo a second collapse into a black hole, extinguishing the magnetic force beyond its event horizon. Lets say, three months to oblivion. Get someone else to do that exact calculation if you really want it.

But let’s assume it doesn’t join the matter black hole, and the field keeps growing.

At the end of a year, the field is about 10 billion googol teslas. The energy stored in this field is phenomenal. But the key point to take away is, that the magnetic attraction decreases by the fourth power of distance, but if you’re exponentially increasing the strength of a field, well, the latter wins out. Everything that can be magnetically sucked into the Earth will be. And remember, protons, neutrons and electrons each have small magnetic moments. The field is projecting itself into space at the speed of light; whether the small green creatures at Alpha Centauri survive four point three years later is dependent upon whether the force between their individual particles and the ten billion googol telsa Earth is enough to cause trouble.

Magnetic force diminishes by the fourth power of distance; at 4 X 10^16m away, it would feel 1/10^64th the force of something a metre away. But at 10^108 Tesla’s, that’s still an awful lot. In fact, the one-meter likeness effects of the field would be felt up to 100,000,000,000 light years away, effectively permeating through known space. By the time it reaches the outer limits of the universe, the Earth’s field would have sucked most particles towards it, to be added to the singularity or accelerated as X rays.

The lesson is, with exponential growth, everything is just a matter of time. It just so happens that a year is almost exactly enough time to destroy the universe with an exponential magnet. But you won’t be around much after the first fortnight.

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