Major changes are about to take place with regards to the sun, and the effects of these changes will reportedly impact our entire solar system. It is known systematically as a solar magnetic flip, or a reversal of the sun's magnetic field, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says this incredible phenomenon is set to occur as soon as within the next three-to-four months.
A recent NASA announcement explains that this unusual magnetic field reversal is part of a polarity change event that occurs every 11 years at the peak of each individual solar cycle. When this next magnetic flip eventually takes place, it will mark the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24, or the half point of what is known as the current "Solar Max." And you and I will notice it, say experts, in the form of increased space weather and other space events around planet Earth.
"It looks like we're no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal," says Todd Hoeksema, director of Stanford University's Wilcox Solar Observatory, in a recent statement about the event. "The magnetic field from active regions makes its way toward the poles and eventually causes the reversal. This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."
As it turns out, the extent of the sun's magnetic influence, also known as its "heliosphere," is incredibly large, extending out beyond Pluto, the furthest planet from the sun. Polarity changes, such as a magnetic field reversal, have the potential to significantly alter the pattern of the sun's "current sheet," the surface that jets out from the sun's equator and induces electrical currents in its magnetic field.
Upcoming magnetic reversal will actually help protect earth, say experts
During this upcoming pole flip, the sun's current sheet will become extra wavy. Since the Earth orbits the sun based on the movements of the current sheet, the Earth will also become more wavy, as will the space weather surrounding Earth. Cosmic rays, for instance, will behave differently when encountering a wavier current sheet, which could affect the normal cloudiness and climate of Earth. The wavier the current sheet, the better protected earth will be from damaging cosmic rays.
"The sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, go to zero, and then emerge again with the opposite polarity," adds Phil Scherrer, a solar physicist at Stanford. "The sun's north pole has already changed sign, while the south pole is racing to catch up. Soon, however, both poles will be reversed, and the second half of Solar Max will be underway."
Experts claim solar magnetic flips are a perfectly normal part of the solar life-cycle process. But they are still unable to fully explain how or why they work, especially when they lead to varying solar and space activity each time they occur. In years past, for instance, magnetic field reversals have led to massive increases in solar flares and ejections. But this time around, the sun appears to be relatively calm and quiet, at least so far.
"The polar fields have been getting weaker and weaker over the last 30 years, and so also the following sunspot cycles have been getting weaker over the years," says Hoeksema. "We don't really understand why, or even if that's the cause or if they're both symptoms of the same thing. It's a fun and interesting puzzle."