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What Will Happen When the Sun’s Magnetic Poles Reverse?

The Sun’s magnetic field will likely reverse sometime in the next three to four months. No, this is not the next doomsday prediction scenario. It really will happen. But there’s nothing to fear because in reality the Sun’s magnetic field changes regularly, about every 11 years.

The flip-flopping of the Sun’s magnetic field takes place at the peak of each solar activity cycle when the Sun’s internal magnetic dynamo reorients itself. When the field reversal happens, the magnetic field weakens, then dies down to zero before emerging again with a reversed polarity.

While this is not a catastrophic event, the reversal will have effects, said solar physicist Todd Hoeksema, the director of Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory, who monitors the Sun’s polar magnetic fields. “This change will have ripple effects throughout the Solar System,” he said.

The magnetic flux of the Sun through the solar cycle (credit: Ian O'Neill)

The magnetic flux of the Sun through the solar cycle (credit: Ian O’Neill)

When solar physicists talk about solar field reversals, their conversation often centers on the “current sheet.” The current sheet is a sprawling surface jutting outward from the sun’s equator where the Sun’s slowly-rotating magnetic field induces an electrical current. The current itself is small, only one ten-billionth of an amp per square meter (0.0000000001 amps/m2), but there’s a lot of it: the amperage flows through a region 10,000 km thick and billions of kilometers wide. Electrically speaking, the entire heliosphere is organized around this enormous sheet.

During field reversals, the current sheet becomes very wavy, and as Earth orbits the Sun, we dip in and out of the current sheet. This means we can see an uptick in space weather, with any solar storms affecting Earth more. So, there may be more auroras in our near future.

Cosmic rays are also affected. These are high-energy particles accelerated to nearly light speed by supernova explosions and other violent events in the galaxy. Cosmic rays are a danger to astronauts and space probes, and some researchers say they might affect the cloudiness and climate of Earth. The current sheet acts as a barrier to cosmic rays, deflecting them as they attempt to penetrate the inner solar system. The good news is that a wavy sheet acts as a better shield against these energetic particles from deep space.

Scientists say the Sun’s north pole is already quite far along losing its polarity, with the south pole coming along behind.

“The sun’s north pole has already changed sign, while the south pole is racing to catch up,” said Phil Scherrer, another solar physicst at Standford. “Soon, however, both poles will be reversed, and the second half of Solar Max will be underway.”

Meaning that activity in this already weak solar cycle will start to abate.

Source: NASA

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • novenator August 6, 2013, 10:52 PM

    We should celebrate when this occurs

    • Damaged Goods August 7, 2013, 2:55 AM

      Already stocked up on tortillas and salsa.

  • Jbark49 August 6, 2013, 6:04 PM

    Did not realize such thing was even possible. Great read and very interesting.

  • ew_3 August 6, 2013, 11:41 PM

    If this indeed is the peak of this solar cycle the average number of sunspots was only 57 last month. Way below normal.
    Historical records show the fewer the observed sunspots, the lower the temperature on earth. Drop a degree or two in temperature and starvation due to shorter growing seasons will cause the death of millions of humans.

    • ur ass August 7, 2013, 12:52 AM

      lol…sure

    • notreallysure August 7, 2013, 9:20 AM

      Interesting. You should go occupy the sun in protest!

  • Aqua4U August 7, 2013, 12:30 AM

    My fifth flop… so far I can’t say I’ve noticed any obvious changes during a solar magnetic flip? Where were you 11 years ago?

  • InfoAstronomy August 7, 2013, 12:35 AM

    It’s amazing.

  • Deepsky_hunter August 7, 2013, 5:15 AM

    I’ve been observing the sun in Ha for the last couple of days and it has been quite lack luster.A few small proms and filaments.Nothing spectacular

  • astroengine August 7, 2013, 3:36 PM

    That’s awesome Nancy, thanks for using my little flux diagram, totally forgot I had created that! :D

    • NancyAtkinson August 7, 2013, 6:26 PM

      Your work is always appreciated around here! Plus, when it comes to the Sun, I always think of you. :)

  • CandleForex August 7, 2013, 4:21 PM

    The diagrams are pretty cool!

  • Lou Siffa August 8, 2013, 6:03 PM

    So when the Suns magnetic field is at zero, what will be happening to the delicate order of the solar systems planets, namely Earth???? Will we be flung out or drawn in? And how long will the Suns magnetic field be at zero??? Ask the right questions people! Please answer quickly, may not have another 11 years!

  • Wasga August 9, 2013, 2:35 AM

    You may have the Sun’s magnetic field and gravitational field confused. This will have little to no effect on you.

    • Lou Siffa August 10, 2013, 7:51 PM

      Are you sure man? My family is really shook up by this! So the gravitational field dropping to zero is what would be disasterous, not the magnetic field…just so Im clear?

    • Lou Siffa August 10, 2013, 7:58 PM

      And when you say little effect…what do you mean?

  • fred August 9, 2013, 10:39 PM

    to bad it wont take obama with it when it flips

  • Lorin Ionita August 12, 2013, 6:40 AM

    Pretty much.

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