Imagine operating a telegraph in the middle of the night when, suddenly, you start receiving spark shocks from the machine. Though you disconnect the telegraph, it continues to function, driven by some unknown power source. Stepping outside, you see a brilliant aurora covering much of the sky with light strong enough to read by. Later reports reveal that the aurora was visible as far south as Hawaii.
As incredible as this scenario sounds, such conditions arose during the 1859 Carrington Super Flare. These electromagnetic “storms” occur when the magnetic fields of the Sun and Earth interact. Fortunately, as recently reported in Science, Earth's magnetic field features characteristics that serve to blunt the impact of these storms on advanced civilization.
Earth's Natural Shield
Day after day, the Sun moves across the sky and provides a steady source of heat and light for a large fraction of life on Earth. But despite the Sun's seeming constancy, scientists know that a number of violent solar events (flares, coronal mass ejections, and others) do impact Earth, as was the case in 1859 when the two bodies' magnetic fields “reconnected” (see animation here).
During these reconnection events, large amounts of hot plasma from the solar wind gain a path directly toward Earth. The efficiency of the reconnection event plays a central role in determining the amount of energy transferred from the solar into Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere. However, recent observations revealed that the planet's magnetic field houses a reservoir of charged particles that rush out toward the reconnection region in such a way that dampens the efficiency of reconnection.1 Consequently, each reconnection event causes much less damage to Earth's surface than it would without the reservoir.
Assessing Other “Habitable” Planets
This research highlights yet another feature that any putative “habitable planet” must possess in order to be truly habitable—at least for human-like life and advanced civilization. Specifically, the planet must generate a substantial magnetic field otherwise it cannot host the reservoir of charged particles to dampen reconnection events.
Scientists have expressed much interested in M-dwarf stars because they represent about 75 percent of all stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Moreover, research indicates that many, if not all, M-dwarf stars host planets. The dimmer nature of these stars means the region where a planet could host liquid water resides much closer to the star, which results in tidal locking such that the planet has no magnetic field.
The number of known planets, as well as the number of environments where those planets reside, continues to grow. At the same time, the list of conditions required for advanced life (based, at least, on what we know from Earth) grows more stringent. Such a finding comports well with the idea of a God who fashioned Earth for human life and then commanded humanity to study creation in order to manage it well.