The sun’s magnetic field will reverse polarity at some point in the coming weeks, sending ripples to the edge of interstellar space
The Sun is set to “flip upside down” within weeks as its magnetic field reverses polarity in an event that will send ripple effects throughout the solar system.
Although it may sound like a catastrophic occurrence, there’s no need to run for cover. The sun switches its polarity, flipping its magnetic north and south, once every eleven years through an internal mechanism about which little is understood.
The swap could however cause intergalactic weather fronts such as geomagnetic storms, which can interfere with satellites and cause radio blackouts.
Nasa said in August that the change would happen in three to four months time, but it is impossible to give a more specific date. Scientist won’t know for around another three weeks whether the flip is complete.
The impact of the transfer will be widespread as the sun’s magnetic field exerts influence well beyond Pluto, past NASA’s Voyager probes positioned near the edge of interstellar space.
The event will be watched closely by researchers at Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory, which monitors the sun’s magnetic field on a daily basis.
Todd Hoeksema, director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory, said the polarity change is built up throughout the eleven year cycle through areas of intense magnetic activity known as sunspots which gradually move towards the poles, eroding the existing opposite polarity.
The above was posted Friday 15 November 2013. It is now June 2018 and nothing particularly notable by the average person has yet happened. Did the sun flip? Yes, it did.
The sun has “flipped upside down”, with its north and south poles reversed to reach the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24, Nasa has said.
Now, the magnetic fields will once again start moving in opposite directions to begin the completion of the 22 year long process which will culminate in the poles switching once again.
“A reversal of the sun’s magnetic field is, literally, a big event,” said Nasa’s Dr. Tony Phillips.
“The domain of the sun’s magnetic influence (also known as the ‘heliosphere’) extends billions of kilometers beyond Pluto. Changes to the field’s polarity ripple all the way out to the Voyager probes, on the doorstep of interstellar space.”
To mark the event, Nasa has released a visualisation of the entire process.