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Earth’s magnetic field, a familiar directional indicator over long distances, is routinely probed in applications ranging from geology to archaeology. The work was conducted in the NMR laboratory of Alexander Pines, one of the world’s foremost NMR authorities, as part of a long-standing collaboration with physicist Dmitry Budker at the University of California, Berkeley, along with colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The exquisite sensitivity of NMR for detecting chemical composition, and the spatial resolution which it can provide in medical applications, requires large and precise superconducting magnets.
But chemical characterization of objects that cannot be placed inside a magnet requires a different approach. Instead of a superconducting magnet, low-field NMR measurements may rely on Earth’s magnetic field, given a sufficiently sensitive magnetometer. Paul Ganssle is the corresponding author of a paper in Angewandte Chemie describing ultra-low-field NMR using an optical magnetometer. Earth’s magnetic field is indeed very weak, but optical magnetometers can serve as detectors for ultra-low-field NMR measurements in the ambient field alone without any permanent magnets.
In high-field NMR, the chemical properties of a sample are determined from their resonance spectrum, but this is not possible without either extremely high fields or extremely long-lived coherent signals (neither of which are possible with permanent magnets). A key difference between this and conventional experiments is that the relaxation and diffusion properties are resolved through optically-detected NMR, which operates sensitively even in low magnetic fields.
The design was tested in the lab by measuring relaxation coefficients first for various hydrocarbons and water by themselves, then for a heterogeneous mixture, as well as in two-dimensional correlation experiments, using a magnetometer and an applied magnetic field representative of Earth’s. This technology could help the oil industry to characterize fluids in rocks, because water relaxes at a different rate from oil. The next step involves understanding the depth in a geological formation that could be imaged with this technology. Eventually, probes could be used to characterize entire borehole environments in this way, while current devices can only image inches deep. Other authors on the Angewandte Chemie paper include Hyun Doug Shin, Micah Ledbetter, Dmitry Budker, Svenja Knappe, John Kitching, and Alexander Pines.
For more information about the research in Alex Pines’ Nuclear Magnetic Resonance group, go here. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
The Earth’s magnetic field protects life on Earth, shielding it from damaging radiation and moderating our climate. So the idea that it could completely flip around, or collapse altogether, should cause us to worry, right?
The result of electrical currents generated deep within the Earth through dynamic action, the magnetosphere is a fluid force that is constantly changing in strength and orientation. Surrounding this solid inner core is a second layer made primarily of an iron-nickel alloy.
The disparity in temperature between the inner core and the mantle causes the Earth to become a giant magnet. Given the fluidity of the system, it stands to reason that the magnetic field is not an immovable constant, but changes in its strength, orientation and polarity. Since it was first pinpointed in 1831 by James Ross, the magnetic north pole has moved more than 600 miles, and in recent years, this change has accelerated from “an average speed of 10 km per year .
Discerned from magnetic signatures found on rocks and sediments, scientists today know that the poles routinely switch places. It’s not a sudden flip, but a slow process, during which the field strength becomes weak, very probably the field becomes more complex and might show more than two poles for a while, and then builds up in strength and aligns in the opposite direction. Given the field’s waning strength over the last couple of centuries, some scientists believe we are approaching another long-term flip. However, if the magnetic field were to significantly weaken, we could (potentially) be in trouble. In recent years, scientists have found evidence that magnetic pole shifts can occur very quickly, although it is not clear if they typically result in complete reversals. In the late 1960s near the village of Laschamp in the Massif-Central in France, scientists found incomplete evidence that led them to believe an extremely rapid, short-term magnetic reversal had occurred a mere 41,000 years ago (about the time the Neanderthal disappeared from Europe). Other evidence of a rapid pole shift was discovered in 1995 in hardened lava in Steens Mountain, Oregon. The shield was discovered in the Van Allen radiation belts - two doughnut-shaped rings above Earth that are filled with high-energy electrons and protonsA But while scientists know this mysterious shield exists, they are baffled as to how it formed and how exactly it works.A 'Somewhat like the shields created by force fields on Star Trek that were used to repel alien weapons, we are seeing an invisible shield blocking these electrons,' said Professor Daniel Baker from the University of Colorado Boulder. The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline. Artist’s impression showing how the solar wind shapes the magnetospheres of Venus (shown with a brown tail, closer to the Sun) and Earth (shown in blue).

Venus is a rarity among planets – a world that does not internally generate a magnetic field. Planets which generate magnetic fields in their interiors, such as Earth, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn, are surrounded by invisible magnetospheres. Since Venus has no intrinsic magnetic field to act as a shield against incoming charged particles, the solar wind sometimes interacts directly with the upper atmosphere.
As on Earth, solar ultraviolet radiation removes electrons from the atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, creating a region of electrically charged gas known as the ionosphere. Spacecraft observations over many decades have shown that magnetic reconnection occurs frequently in the magnetospheres of Earth, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn.
On 15 May 2006, Venus Express was crossing the Venusian magnetotail when it observed a rotational magnetic field structure over a period of about 3 minutes.
Further studies of the magnetic field data from Venus Express revealed the signatures of many similar observations of energy exchange between the magnetic field and the plasma in the tail. The data also show that, in many respects, the magnetosphere of Venus is a scaled-down version of Earth’s.
Magnetic reconnection occurs in the Earth’s magnetotail and plasma sheet at a distance of about 10-30 planetary radii down the magnetotail.
Illustration of Earth’s magnetic field which looks a little like a sideways jellyfish.
The discovery that plasma is lost from the tail as a result of magnetic reconnections provides a possible new mechanism for explaining how and why gases are lost from Venus’s upper atmosphere. Thank goodness Earth’s magnetic field (see Picture 2) and atmosphere protect us from most of this blast. We call these glowing colors the Northern Lights and Southern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. And what about the astronauts living in the International Space Station or on a Space Shuttle mission? Just as we need early warnings about hurricanes, tornadoes, and other bad weather, having early warnings of bad space weather helps keep damage to a minimum. That is why the GOES (short for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) has a Solar X-ray Imager and other instruments to measure the space environment. Another type of satellite that monitors space weather is the POES (short for Polar-orbiting Operational environmental Satellite). Click on the picture to play a VIDEO of a solar flare traveling from the Sun through space, and flowing around Earth's magnetic field.
Magnetic forces will move the compass needle on the left so that it will line up with Earth's magnetic lines of force as seen on the right. Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, as seen by the IMAGE satellite eight days after a giant solar flare. Now it has provided the basis for a technique which might, one day, be used to characterize the chemical composition of fluid mixtures in their native environments. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) conducted a proof-of-concept NMR experiment in which a mixture of hydrocarbons and water was analyzed using a high-sensitivity magnetometer and a magnetic field comparable to that of the Earth. The work will be featured on the cover of Angewandte Chemie and is published in a paper titled “Ultra-Low-Field NMR Relaxation and Diffusion Measurements Using an Optical Magnetometer.” The corresponding author is Paul Ganssle,  who was a PhD student in Pines’ lab at the time of the work. In ex situ NMR measurements, the geometry of a typical high-field experiment is reversed such that the detector probes the sample surface, and the magnetic field is projected into the object.
This means that ex-situ measurements lose chemical sensitivity due to field strength alone. In contrast, relaxation and diffusion measurements in low-field NMR are more than sufficient to determine bulk materials properties. Relaxation refers to the rate at which polarized spin returns to equilibrium, based on chemical and physical characteristics of the system. There were attempts to perform oil well logging starting in the 1950s using the Earth’s ambient field, but insufficient detection sensitivity led to the introduction of magnets, which are now ubiquitous in logging tools. Other applications include measuring the content of water and oil flowing in a pipeline by measuring chemical composition with time, and inspecting the quality of foods and any kind of polymer curing process such as cement curing and drying. The combination of terrestrial magnetism and versatile sensing technology again offers an elegant solution. The current publication presents some of the work for which Berkeley Lab won an R&D 100 award earlierthis year on optically-detected oil well logging by MRI. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. Many downplay the risk to humans, noting that the magnetosphere rarely disappears, so life on Earth remains largely protected during the reversal. In fact, some researchers have opined that there is “a direct link between the demise of the Neanderthals .

Despite the absence of a large protective magnetosphere, the near-Venus environment does exhibit a number of similarities with planets such as Earth. Their magnetic fields deflect the charged particles of the solar wind (electrons and protons) as they stream away from the Sun. This ionised layer interacts with the solar wind and the magnetic field carried by the solar wind. This process, which converts magnetic energy into kinetic energy, occurs when oppositely directed magnetic field lines break and reconnect with each other. However, Tielong Zhang and an international team of co-authors now report on Science Express, the online version of the journal Science, that they have found the first evidence of magnetic reconnection in Venus’ magnetotail. Previous missions, such as Pioneer Venus, have either been in different orbits or been active at different periods of solar activity, so they not been able to detect these reconnection events. Since Earth’s magnetosphere is 10 times larger, reconnection at Venus would be expected to occur 1-3 radii down its tail.
Zhang is Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instrument on Venus Express and a Senior Research Scientist at the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria. This has implications for understanding how Venus lost its water after the planet began to experience a runaway greenhouse effect. But if you have ever used a compass to find which way is north, you have seen one effect of these lines of force.
Some of the charged particles flow right down into Earth’s atmosphere near the Poles. Picture 7 is a map that shows how likely you are on a certain day to see the Northern Lights from any location in the Northern Hemisphere. The POES keep an eye on Earth's climate, but also monitor the energy entering Earth's atmosphere by charged particles from the Sun. Invisible magnetic "lines of force" come out near the South Pole and re-enter near the North Pole. Notice the glowing auroras at Earth's North and South Poles from the charged particles entering the atmosphere. It shows how likely (on a scale of 0 - 10) you are to see the Northern Lights on a particular day.
Further, the sample of interest must be placed inside the magnet, such that the entire sample is exposed to a homogeneous magnetic field. A main challenge with this situation is generating a homogeneous magnetic field over a sufficiently large sample area: it is not feasible to generate field strengths necessary to make conventional high-resolution NMR measurements.
Venus is closer to the Sun, at roughly 0.7 AU (Astronomical Unit) while Earth is located at 1 AU. The latest, surprising, example is the evidence for magnetic reconnection in Venus’ induced magnetotail. On Earth, this reconnection is responsible for magnetic storms and polar auroras – the so-called Northern and Southern Lights. However, if a planet has a magnetic field, as Earth does, the charged particles flow around the magnetic field. When these charged particles hit Earth’s atmosphere, they glow in beautiful shades of green and red.
Usually, you can see them only if you live somewhat close to the North or South Pole, far from the equator.
Observers in blue areas are not likely to see them, but observers in white or yellow areas could be lucky.
The solar wind pushes on the magnetic field, flattening it on the side facing the Sun, and pushing it out into a long tail on the opposite side.
They give space weather forecasters information that helps them to warn others of solar events that could harm satellites and systems on the ground. When enough sediment collects, it tumbles like an avalanche, into the outer core, thereby cooling it. During this period, the field was even weaker, with only 5% of today’s field strength. As a consequence, Earth nearly completely lost its protection shield against hard cosmic rays, leading to a significantly increased radiation exposure. Some speculative studies have suggested that as the Earth’s magnetic field weakens we could see an increase in cloud coverage in the troposphere and an increase in the polar ozone holes .

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