Sun About To Magnetically Flip

The sun's magnetic field is set for reversal in the coming months. Credit: NASA
The sun’s magnetic field is set for a reversal in the coming months. Credit: NASA

As the sun reaches a crescendo in its 11 year activity cycle this year, it’s also getting ready to go topsy-turvy. 

The sun’s global magnetic field is about to reverse—flipping its orientation so that north becomes south and south becomes north. Astronomers estimate that we may be only three or four months away from this mysterious solar magnetic field reversal.

This magnetic field flip occurs every 11 years as the sun reaches the mid-point of the solar maximum, a period of increased solar activity . Scientists monitoring the sun during its current cycle say that the sun’s inner electromagnetic dynamo—produced by the rotation of its plasma and the outward flow of energy—is about to change orientation between the northern and southern hemispheres.

The effects of the pole reversal will reverberate well beyond the sun. While there’s no need to worry about any Hollywood-type doomsday scenarios, this natural, ongoing solar event can create stormy space weather and intensify the geomagnetic storms that will buffet the Earth in the coming year. For skywatchers, this may translate into some beautiful auroras this coming season.

Even the protective bubble at the edge of the solar system, called the heliosheath—which lies billions of miles beyond Pluto and shields the planets from damaging cosmic radiation—is under the influence of the sun’s magnetic field. The heliosheth will feel the effects of this magnetic flip and become more robust. The improved shielding from cosmic radiation—while temporary— will directly benefit spacewalking astronauts and satellites vulnerable to these energetic, and destructive, particles .

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

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