The sun is slowly stealing Earth's atmosphere, with our planet's main solar defense acting as a double agent, aiding and abetting the thievery, suggests a new study.
According to a report in National Geographic News, typically hailed as a protective buffer from the sun's brute power, Earth's magnetosphere is actually helping the sun's energized particles strip away a tiny fraction of Earth's atmosphere.
"We're, in fact, losing more oxygen and more hydrogen than even Venus is today," said Chris Russell, a professor of space physics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"We often tell our colleagues and ourselves that we are fortunate living on this planet, because we have this magnetic shield that protects us," he added.
"It certainly does help, but we've come to the realization that, when it comes to the atmosphere, that's not true," he further added.
An international team of researchers has been tracking planetary atmospheres using the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Mars Express mission for Venus and Mars and NASA's Small Explorer Mission (SMEX) for Earth.
SMEX also harbors an instrument for measuring magnetic activity on Earth.
"On Earth, the magnetosphere acts like an energy collector that interacts with the material that's coming from the sun and can draw energy out of the solar wind," Russell said.
But then, Earth's magnetic field funnels and guides that energy to the upper atmosphere, heating the atmosphere and allowing bits of it to escape along the very same funnels that guided the energy in.
"The precise physics have yet to be worked out, but there's no cause for alarm," Russell said.
"At the current rate, our present atmospheric inventory can last at least until the sun-midway through its life now, turns into a red giant and engulfs Earth," he explained.
"At that point, the loss of atmosphere becomes moot," he added.