The Sun is Flipping Out!

Jun 6, 2016


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Look up! You can see the biggest somersault in the solar system. The sun is in the middle of a giant slow motion flip.

Its magnetic field is reversing its poles. Already the North Pole has become a South Pole. Over the next few months, the sun's South Pole will become a North Pole. It is a crazy time—the peak of the solar cycle. Enjoy the view; it happens once every eleven years, so it will be a while before you see it again.

Mankind has been studying the mysteries of the sun and its cycles for thousands of years. Source: NASA

As the sun rotates, the spinning gas and plasma generates a magnetic field. Like the magnet on your refrigerator, this field has a north and south pole.

However, unlike that solid refrigerator magnet, the sun’s magnetic fields get tangled. Different layers of gas in the sun rotate at different speeds. This ends up stretching and tangling the magnetic field. You can see loops of these magnetic fields, enclosed in glowing gasses, sticking out of the surface of the sun. The places where they break out of the sun’s surface are dark sunspots.

The sun has magnetic poles that flip every 11 years. Source: NASA

Over the eleven-year solar cycle, the magnetic fields become more tangled and you see more sunspots. Finally, at the peak of the cycle, the magnetized plasma at the sun’s core flips. At the surface, the poles seem to disappear, then the north pole reappears where the south pole was and vice versa. We have seen this happen three times and it is happening right now. The north pole has already flipped.

GOOD NEWS – This causes the sun’s electronic field, spread throughout the solar system, to ripple. This helps protect the Earth from cosmic rays.

BAD NEWS – The overstrained magnet fields snap, producing solar storms. For the next three years there will be more solar storms that can affect Earth. A very severe storm can interfere with satellites and the Earth’s power grid.

GOOD NEWS – There are very few severe storms. Most storms that hit the earth cause electrical discharges high in the atmosphere – auroras.

So brace yourself – the sun has flipped. You are doomed – to see more frequent Northern Lights dazzling our nighttime skies.

The solar cycle has peaked and we will see more auroras. Source: Wikipedia


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About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Who are the photographers

Who are the photographers whose images you used in your article? They spent long cold, exhausting hours out in the darkness to capture those photos, and probably only recorded those after many, many sleepless nights.

Aren't  they womderful!

Aren't  they womderful! Unfortunately. the sources did not cite the actual photographers. When they list the photographer, I try to list the name.

Is it true that Earth's poles

Is it true that Earth's poles will also flip?
I think I saw on TV that scientists believe the poles flip about every 5000 years and they figure we are getting close to that time again.

The Earth's magnetic poles

The Earth's magnetic poles also move, although it is much slower than the solar magnetic poles. I wrote about in November and you can find out about the movement here:

Considering the fact I live

Considering the fact I live in Virginia, Im probably not in a good place to view the northern lights. Is there a chance auroras can be viewed from here if we have a solar storm strong enough? Am I far enough north?

Yes, you are far enough

Yes, you are far enough north. Historically, auroras have been seen as far south as Cuba. The Space Environment Center has aurora viewing zones ranging from Kp 3 to Kp 9, with Kp 9 being able to see the very strong storms. Northern Virginia is in the Kp9 zone.

Where can I see this in

Where can I see this in Michigan and when?

Bless the internet. There are

Bless the internet. There are a number of websites that give aurora alerts, even on Facebook and twitter. You can check these sites and they let you know which nights are going to be strong enough to reach your area. Some sites even track when and where the Northern Lights are dancing in real time.

I can't wait! I live in

I can't wait! I live in Wisconsin and was here when this happened before and it is the most beautiful and amazing thing to watch.

Congratulations -- you are a

Congratulations -- you are a lucky lady!

Thank you for this. Do you

Thank you for this. Do you have any recommendations for viewing locations in New England? (We are in Vermont.)

Vermont is in a good place

Vermont is in a good place for Northern Lights, but far enough south that timing is important. There is a good site -- -- that warns when the bright shows are coming. It usually gives you 24 hours or more notice. Then get away from the city lights and enjoy.

They say the south I am

They say the south I am interested in our state! I have never had the honor of seeing this and would just b in amazement! I am curious also if the solar situation has to do with the way the weather system changes like seems every 10 yrs or so we have severe storms, hurricanes, snow etc. and then when the earthquake Japan and tsunami in Indonesia had anything to do with this whole thing??? TY Jenn

Old Farmer's Almanac factors

Old Farmer's Almanac factors the changing sun into its weather forecasts. They don't tie it into earthquakes and tsunamis but they have used it to track weather changes.

I love reading the old

I love reading the old farmers almanac it always has interesting articles, however to say "you are doomed" is a bit to much. You have to realize there not only adults read this but children do to, now I have to explain this to my kid.

I'm sorry if it was puzzling

I'm sorry if it was puzzling for your kid. I was making the sentence a parody of all the gloom and doom stories that I have been reading about solar storms and changes. The main doom this solar change brings is some lovely Northern Lights. I hope you and he/she will enjoy seeing some auroras.

Thank you for posting this

Thank you for posting this article. I learn so much about our sky's from you. Our sky is amazing and beautiful.

Thank you for this article

Thank you for this article and for teaching us about some of the amazing things that go on in our sky's. I read everyone of your articles and always learn something.

Thank you so much for your

Thank you so much for your kind comments. You and readers like you are why it is so much fun to write for the Almanac.

willwe see the aurora in the

willwe see the aurora in the south skies now

We will only see them in

We will only see them in southern skies if the storms are very strong -- usually a couple of times per solar cycle. We are more likely to see them during this period following the peak of the cycle -- the solar maximum.


I saw the Aurora once long

I saw the Aurora once long many years ago. I lived in Waynesboro, Mississippi then and have since moved back. It was such a beautiful sight that I will never forget. I wish, even though it would be a severe storm, that my daughter could see it from almost the same place I saw then at her age!

This article is so amazing.

This article is so amazing. Our universe is so unique. This shows me how creative and powerful our creator is! Amen.

Thank you. The changes in our

Thank you. The changes in our sun and skies are indeed amazing.

Interesting! I hope that

Interesting! I hope that everyone's weekend was both great and safe,having a good week and has another good weekend!

I'm glad you found it

I'm glad you found it interesting and share your wish.

I deeply appreciate the

I deeply appreciate the valuable information you share.

Is it possible you could use more clear and accurate terms in your titles/ The slang phrase "Flipping Out" is as meaningful as phrases like "its like awesome dude". Since the sun isn't flipping or flipping out I would appreciate a more effective use of the English language. I believe it lends more credibility for the level of quality and integrity of the information being shared. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Thank you for both the

Thank you for both the compliment and the thought you showed in your criticism.

Like you, I appreciate precision in my vocabulary. In my Browning Newsletter, a more technical publication, I stick to the more exact terms. However, for the Old Farmer's Almanac, I am willing to use lighter, more attention-getting phrases in titles. Once readers come to the article, I always try to deliver scientific accuracy and a bit of humor.

Thank you for the story, I

Thank you for the story, I found it to be informative and entertaining. Can't wait to see these beautiful lights!

I live so far south that I

I live so far south that I rarely see them. I hope you live far enough north to enjoy the show. It should be beautiful.

Thank you for the informative

Thank you for the informative information you post,...helping us understand this awesome world we all share !!!

Thank you. You're so right --

Thank you. You're so right -- we do live in an awesome world!


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