Astronomers: Sun’s magnetic field flip is not a doomsday scenario for our planet

By Lance Tillson, National Monitor | August 08, 2013

Astronomers: Sun’s magnetic field flip is not a doomsday scenario for our planet

NASA notes that the Sun’s magnetic field flips about every 11 years.

Space.com reports that the forthcoming solar magnetic field reversal is not a doomsday scenario for our delicate little planet.

“The world will not end tomorrow,” Phil Scherrer, a solar physicist at Stanford University, told the website.

Regardless, the Sun’s magnetic field is predicted to flip within the next several months, a prediction that is based on data from several NASA-funded observatories.

According to Todd Hoeksema, a colleague of Scherrer’s at Stanford University, a complete field reversal will take place in no more than three to four months. And, the change will have widespread effects throughout the solar system.

NASA notes that the Sun’s magnetic field flips about every 11 years. When it does flip, the halfway point of Solar Cycle 24 will have been reached.

Since 1976, magnetograms at Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory have been keeping tabs for NASA on the Sun’s polar magnetism. According to Sherrer, when the Sun’s magnetic field finally flips, solar physicists will know because the sun’s polar magnetic fields will weaken, go to zero and then surface again with the opposite polarity.

This will be the fourth flip observed by Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory. Eventually, changes to the magnetic field’s polarity will spread out across the solar system, even as far away as the Voyager probes at the edge of the Solar System.

The reversal’s impact on the “current sheet” should eliminate any concern that this event will affect Earth in a negative way. According to NASA, the current sheet projects outward from the Sun’s equator where the Sun’s slowly rotating magnetic field generates an electrical current. In fact, the Sun’s heliosphere is organized around the current sheet.

During the Earth’s orbit of the Sun, our planet moves in and out of the current sheet. As a result of this transition from one side to another, stormy space weather around Earth is often produced. The current sheet can also impact cosmic rays, which are harmful to spacecraft and are thought to affect the Earth’s climate.

Fortunately, the current sheet becomes wavy after a solar magnetic field reversal and a wavy current sheet does a better job of rejecting cosmic rays as they try to penetrate the inner solar system.

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