PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Scary news, Earthlings.

The planet’s magnetic field is shrinking, and scientists are trying to find out why.

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According to the European Space Agency, a “three satellite swarm constellation” was launched into orbit on Friday. For four years, the satellites will be studying Earth’s magnetic field – the only thing keeping us safe from radiation, charged particles and all sorts of nasty stuff that could put an end to life on our planet.

If that doesn’t spell it out clearly for you, the ESA writes that “This [magnetic] shielding protects all life on Earth from the bombardment of heavy ions coming from the Sun and deep space.”

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Furthermore, the organization says that Earth’s magnetic field has been steadily shrinking since the 1980s, which could predict that the north and south poles are starting to reverse – something that’s been known to happen periodically during geological times.

And though pole reversal tends to take thousands of years to complete, immediate side effects from the further weakening of our magnetic shield include “an increase in events that damage” orbiting satellites and the disruption of electrical power grids on Earth.

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