Recent news about the Sun and the core of the Earth have caused panic and confusion on the Internet.
This article dispels the widely circulated misinformation.
Earth's Inner Core: Has It Stopped Rotating?
Earlier this year, scientists Xiaodong Song and Yi Yang at Peking University in China published findings reporting that the Earth’s inner core has begun rotating slower compared to the rest of the planet.
Their study states, “We show surprising observations that indicate the inner core has nearly ceased its rotation in the recent decade and may be experiencing a turning-back.” They indicated that the core’s rotation stopped around 2009, before restarting in the opposite direction.
According to the study, prior to this, the core changed direction in the early 1970s and is estimated to change it again in the mid-2040s. These results were based on an analysis of seismic wave data from earthquakes over a period of 60+ years.
Multiple outlets picked up this news and shared headlines that the Earth core has stopped moving, which caused confusion and fear on social media. However, these fears do not seem to be grounded in the scientific study and its findings. The interpretation of the study reflects a lack of engagement with the actual scientific reports.
The authors of the study have concluded that more research is needed around this subject. Moreover, the scientific community continues to debate these findings and their meanings, as there are various schools of thought on the movement of the Earth’s core. Still, the potential impacts of the core’s movements include changes to navigation, the Earth’s magnetic field, and the length of a day, rather than the impending doom suggested by some social media users.
Again, scientists maintain that more research is needed to understand the meaning of such findings. Nevertheless, many also suggest that these changes are part of a normal cycle in the Earth's core's movements rather than a major change.
Is this cause for concern? Geophysicist Hrvoje Tkalcic told CNN that, "Nothing cataclysmic is happening." He also stated, “You can think of seismologists like medical doctors who study the internal organs of patients’ bodies using imperfect or limited equipment. So, despite progress, our image of the inner Earth is still blurry, and we are still in the discovery stage.” Ultimately, there is much uncertainty and much research needed, meaning that fears on social media are currently disconnected from the work of scientists.
The Sun Did Not "Break Off"
In early February, the fear mongering continued following reports that a piece of the Sun ‘broke off’ with headlines such as “Uh, the Sun Kinda Broke,” and “Part of The Sun Has Broken Off And Formed a Vortex… What The Heck Is Going on?” This type of science communication does not help in sharing already complex information responsibly with general audiences.
The story began with a now-viral tweet by Dr. Tamitha Skov, a space weather physicist. Skov later wrote on a blog: “This vortex has now been cited in many media outlets as ‘a piece of the Sun breaks off’ but don't believe the hype. It is all part of the perfectly normal and stunning solar ballet!”
The Sun did not break off. What took place is a normal occurrence known as a “prominence.” NASA defines a solar prominence or a filament as “a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun's surface.” What is more peculiar about this event was that the filament or prominence “swirled around” a region of the Sun.
Solar physicist and deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, Scott McIntosh said of the event, "These are not events disruptive to the Earth at all, just a real scientific curiosity about what's happening at the poles."
These two cases, on the Earth’s core and the solar prominence, highlight that more caution is needed when reporting complicated scientific information. Media outlets should not use catchy headlines as clickbait at the expense of responsible reporting. It also means that audiences need to be vigilant when reading headlines and actually read the news before spreading fear and concerns. And, of course, more research is needed to understand these discoveries and their implications.