Sun’s Magnetic Field Will Soon Reverse – Be Prepared for the Flip

solar corona magnetic field sun

The sun’s magnetic north and south magnetic poles are expected to reverse over the next few months. We’ve witnessed only a few such reversals and are not entirely sure what effects they may cause. Read more for an explanation of what we do know about solar and terrestrial magnetic field reversals.

We’ve just passed the northern autumn equinox when the length of the night begins to overtake the length of the day. During this transition, the sun rises due east and sets due west and geosynchronous satellites lose solar power for part of their orbit as the earth eclipses the sun.

For unknown reasons, displays of northern and southern lights (Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis) tend to occur more often during the equinoxes.

At this time of the year, the earth’s equator is parallel to the plane of the earth’s orbit. The sun’s north pole is on the left side of the rising sun and on the right side of the setting sun. Like the earth’s magnetic pole, the sun’s magnetic pole isn’t perfectly aligned with its spin axis and its magnetic field has a complex shape and is subject to unpredictable changes and pulsations.

The earth’s magnetic field is thought to be caused by the electric currents generated by the movement of molten iron and other metals in the earth’s core. The sun’s magnetic field comes from the movement of conductive plasma within the sun’s interior. Because the conductive fluid dynamos which power these magnetic fields are chaotic, both the sun and the earth are subject to occasional magnetic pole reversals.

Earth magnetic field reverses only about once every 200,000 to 300,000 years. It is thought that when earth’s magnetic field weakens during these geomagnetic flips, earth is exposed to higher levels of cosmic radiation. We’re long overdue for such a reversal, so it is expected within the next 2000 years.

The sun’s magnetic field reverses much more frequently by comparison, about once every 11 years during the peak of each solar activity cycle. Fortunately, scientists expect only minor effects from a solar magnetic flip.

Geomagnetic storms which can impact telecommunications and spark aurora displays might be slightly more common during solar magnetic pole flips. But we’ve been tracking the solar magnetic field since 1976.  The sun may surprise us during its fourth observed magnetic pole flip. Keep an eye on spaceweather.com for more details.

Solar corona image with magnetic fields from the atmospheric imaging assembly website.

About Brian Nitz

Brian remembers when a single tear dredged up a nation's guilt. The tear belonged to an Italian-American actor known as Iron-Eyes Cody, the guilt was displaced from centuries of Native American mistreatment and redirected into a new environmental awareness. A 10-year-old Brian wondered, 'What are they... No, what are we doing to this country?' From a family of engineers, farmers and tinkerers Brian's father was a physics teacher. He remembers the day his father drove up to watch a coal power plant's new scrubbers turn smoke from dirty grey-back to steamy white. Surely technology would solve every problem. But then he noticed that breathing was difficult when the wind blew a certain way. While sailing, he often saw a yellow-brown line on the horizon. The stars were beginning to disappear. Gas mileage peaked when Reagan was still president. Solar panels installed in the 1970s were torn from roofs as they were no longer cost-effective to maintain. Racism, public policy and low oil prices transformed suburban life and cities began to sprawl out and absorb farmland. Brian only began to understand the root causes of "doughnut cities" when he moved to Ireland in 2001 and watched history repeat itself. Brian doesn't think environmentalism is 'rocket science', but understanding how to apply it within a society requires wisdom and education. In his travels through Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East, Brian has learned that great ideas come from everywhere and that sharing mistakes is just as important as sharing ideas.

One thought on “Sun’s Magnetic Field Will Soon Reverse – Be Prepared for the Flip

  1. Pingback: Why does the North Pole move? | Illuminutti

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