TAMPA (CBS Tampa) – The Earth’s magnetic field is weakening rapidly and may be getting ready to flip.

If that happens, compasses would point south instead of north…but it won’t happen any time soon.

“Such a flip is not instantaneous, but would take many hundred if not a few thousand years,” Rune Floberghagen, with the European Space Agency, told Live Science. “They have happened many times in the past.”

The ESA has three satellites in orbit that measure changes in the magnetic field. The system is called SWARM.

The latest data suggests magnetic north is already moving southward towards Siberia.

The magnetic field forms because Earth’s core is made of a giant ball of iron surrounded by molten metal which flows deep beneath the surface. That movement creates the field and protects the planet from deadly solar radiation.

“The flow of the liquid outer core almost pulls the magnetic field around with it,” Floberghagen said. “So, a field weakening over the American continent would mean that the flow in the outer core below America is slowing down.”

Scientists say the biggest risk from a magnetic field would be to electronic communications and power grids.

Previously, researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per century. The new data shows the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per decade, or 10 times faster than thought. So than the full flip occurring in about 2,000 years, as was predicted, the new data suggest it could happen sooner.

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