SCIENCE

Sun's Magnetic Field To Flip In Complete Reversal That Will Have 'Ripple Effects'

08/06/2013 01:55 pm 13:55:51 | Updated Aug 07, 2013

Get ready, Earth. The sun's magnetic field is about to do a 180 when the celestial body's electromagnetism flips and changes polarity.

According to NASA-supported observations, the complete reversal is expected to take place in the coming months.

"It looks like we're no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal," Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist and director of Stanford University's Wilcox Solar Observatory, said in a statement released by the agency. "This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."

So should we be concerned about the reversal of the sun's magnetic field?

History says no.

While the field reversal is a big event for the solar system, the change in polarity is rather routine. The magnetic flip takes place at the peak of each solar cycle every 11 years. Nearing the mid-point of the sun's 24th observed solar cycle, the star's south pole will soon follow the north's lead and change its magnetic sign.

The change in polarity will have certain effects throughout the heliosphere -- the sun's domain, which extends well beyond Pluto -- but, as NASA notes in its ScienceCasts video, one of the largest effects Earth can expect is some stormy space weather around the planet. Astronauts in orbit may also see some changes in cosmic rays, which could be a potential danger.

The 11-year cycle governs the level of solar activity on the sun. This year, during the peak of the cycle when solar activity is the strongest, the flip will be accompanied by increased levels of turbulence, such as sunspots.

However, as solar physicists have pointed out, 2013's cycle peak has turned out to be one of the weakest observed in the past century, with relatively minimal activity.

Watch NASA's ScienceCasts video below for a thorough explanation of the magnetic field reversal.

Clarification: The sun has gone through 24 solar cycles since scientists began recording solar activity.

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