Sun’s Magnetic Field To Reverse In The Coming Months, Marking The Midpoint Of ‘Solar Max’

sunspot
The peak of Solar Max, a period of increased sunspot activity, is expected to occur in late 2013 or early 2014. NASA

The sun’s magnetic field is about to reverse in the next four to five months. With the changing magnetic field, astronomers believe the process “will have ripple effects throughout the solar system.”

Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist at Stanford University, says the sun’s magnetic field will be reversing at the end of the year and the sun’s north pole has already changed its sign, from negative to positive, reports NASA. The sun’s south pole will soon change its sign and the reversal of magnetic fields will signal the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24.

Solar Cycles are a natural phenomenon, occurring about every 11 years and the current cycle, Solar Cycle 24, started in 2008. During the solar cycle, the number of sunspots and other solar activity increases, Solar Maximum, and decreases, Solar Minimum. The sun is currently at its Solar Max phase, with increased activity. Scientists had predicted the peak of Solar Max to occur earlier in the cycle, at the beginning of 2013, but believe we may be experiencing a double peak which will occur at the end of the year or early in 2014. Phil Scherrer, a solar physicist at Stanford, said in a statement, “The sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, go to zero, and then emerge again with the opposite polarity. This is a regular part of the solar cycle.”

The sun’s magnetic field flipping is a normal part of the solar cycle and will signal the peak of Solar Max. Researchers monitor the sun’s poles for any changes and recent data indicates the flipping of the sun’s magnetic field is expected to occur in a few months. The reversing of the sun’s magnetic field will affect the star itself as well as every other planet in the solar system.

The sun’s current sheet extends from its equator out into space, curved in shape and carries a small electric charge. While the sheet carries an incredibly small charge, the area covers a region that is billions kilometers wide and 10,000 kilometers thick, reports NASA. The magnetic field flip alters the shape of the current sheet, becoming wavier, and Earth travels in and out of the sheet during its orbit around the sun. The Earth’s position within the sheet could protect the planet from cosmic rays, making it safer for astronauts and satellites orbiting the planet. Some researchers believe cosmic rays could also affect Earth’s climate, notes NASA, and the planet’s position inside or outside of the sheet could also affect space weather surrounding the planet.

The researchers said the poles getting out of sync is not uncommon and the south pole will soon change its sign. “Both poles will be reversed, and the second half of Solar Max will be underway,” said Scherrer. The heliosphere, a bubble of the sun’s magnetic influence that affects the entire solar system and billions of kilometers past Pluto, will be affected by the magnetic field reversal and the researchers provide updates on the second half of Solar Cycle 24.

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