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Jul 29, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

Earth's Periodic Pole Reversal Could Be Explained by Ancient Huts in South Africa

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Every so often the Earth's magnetic field flips and the north and south poles are turned upside down, but not much has been known about the process.

According to Space.com, authors of a study published in the journal Nature Communications detailed how a group of ancient huts in South Africa may hold some clues. When the huts were ceremoniously burned they preserved minerals from that point, creating a geological record.

"It has long been thought reversals start at random locations, but our study suggests this may not be the case," study lead author John Tarduno, a geophysicist at the University of Rochester, said in a press release.

By looking at minerals dating back before and after the Earth's mysterious pole reversals, the researchers were able to see a pattern. Tarduno told Space.com there is a weak spot in the Earth's magnetic field that "forms, and it decays away, and it forms, and it decays away; eventually, one might form and get really large, and then we might actually have a geomagnetic reversal."

Not much has been known about this weak spot, because space-based telescopes and satellites have not been able to measure it.

"Some have postulated that the Earth's magnetic field is leaking out the wrong way at that particular spot," study co-author Rory Cottrell, a geologist also at the University of Rochester, told Space.com. "One theory is that changes in the South Atlantic Anomaly could be responsible for the decrease in the overall magnetic field that we're seeing, because these patches are growing or changing over time."

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