The Sun is Flipping Out!

April 18, 2020
Aurora

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
 

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!