The Sun is Flipping Out!

June 6, 2016
Aurora

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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 articles. 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.

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