A storm is coming: Sun’s poles are set to FLIP within four months and it could lead to bad weather and radio disruption 2

  • The sun’s  magnetic field reverses its polarity once every 11 years or so
  • Flip  represents a peak in solar activity where bursts of energy are  released
  • These  bursts can lead to space storms and changes to Earth’s  climate
  • Radio and  satellite communications may also be affected

By  Victoria Woollaston

PUBLISHED: 09:42 EST, 6  August 2013 |  UPDATED: 09:46 EST, 6 August 2013

The sun’s magnetic field is expected to flip  in the next three to four months and it could lead to changes in our climate,  storms and disruption to satellites.

This solar event only happens once every 11  years and signals what physicists call the Solar Maximum – a time when the Sun’s  solar activity is at its highest.

During this peak in activity the outbursts of  solar energy can increase the amount of cosmic and UV rays coming towards Earth  and this can interfere with radio communications, cause solar bursts of light -  known as flares – and can affect the planet’s temperature.

Physicists from Stanford University believe the Sun's magnetic fields will flip before the end of the year, reversing their polarity.  

Physicists from Stanford University believe the Sun’s  magnetic fields will flip before the end of the year, reversing their polarity.  This will cause an increase in solar energy and could lead to changes in climate  and satellite disruption. The reversal happens once every 11 years or  so

 

WHAT IS A SOLAR  MAXIMUM?

Solar Maximum peaks and troughs 

During the sun’s cycle the amount of solar  activity reaches peaks and troughs known as Solar Maximum and Solar Minimum.

During Solar Maximum the amount of solar  activity is at its highest due to a flip, or reversal, of the sun’s magnetic  field.

Since 1976 there have been three Solar  Maximums and they occur roughly every 11 years, although this can vary from  between nine and 14 years.

During a Solar Maximum, large numbers of  sunspots appear and the sun’s irradiance – or electromagnetic radiation – output  grows by around 0.1 per cent.

This increase in energy can impact global  climate and recent studies have shown some correlation with regional weather  patterns.

‘It looks like we’re no more than three to  four months away from a complete field reversal,’ solar physicist Dr Todd  Hoeksema of Stanford University told Nasa  Science.

‘This change will have ripple effects  throughout the solar system.’

The sun’s magnetic field reverses around  every 11 years at the peak of each solar cycle.

The last peak, or Solar Maximum, was in 2000  and Nasa initially predicted the next flip would take place between 2011 and  2012.

Physicists also warned at the time that the  next Solar Maximum could be the strongest yet.

Scientists at Stanford’s Wilcox Solar  Observatory have been studying the sun’s magnetic field since 1976, during which  time they have witnessed three reversals.

In 1859 a solar storm known as the 1859 Solar  Superstorm, or Carrington Event after Richard C Carrington who recorded the  event, saw numerous solar flares appear all over Earth.

It was so strong that the Northern  Lights -  a natural light display that appears predominantly in that  Arctic and Antarctic  regions and is caused by the collision of energetic  charged particles in the  magnetosphere and solar wind – were said to be  have been visible as far south  as Rome.

During Solar Maximum the amount of solar activity is at its highest. 

During Solar Maximum the amount of solar activity is at  its highest. A Solar Maximum causes large numbers of sunspots to appear. The  Sun’s irradiance – or electromagnetic radiation – output grows by about 0.1 per  cent during this time and this can lead to changes in climate and affect radio  communications

THE SOLAR STORM OF  1859

In 1859 a solar storm known as the Solar  Superstorm, or Carrington Event named after Richard Carrington who  recorded it,  saw numerous solar flares appear.

From 28 August 28 to 2 September sunspots and  solar flares were observed.

British astronomer Carrington  observed the  largest flare, which caused a major coronal mass ejection – a massive burst of  solar wind and magnetic field – to travel directly  toward Earth.

It was so strong that the Northern  Lights -  a natural light display that appears predominantly in that  Arctic and Antarctic  regions caused by the collision of energetic  charged particles in the  magnetosphere and solar wind – were said to be  have been visible as far south  as Rome.

Telegraph services were also  disrupted.

Solar flares created by changes in solar  activity also release X-rays and UV radiation.

These rays can affect Earth’s ionosphere – a  region of the upper atmosphere – and disrupt long-range radio communications.

Dr Phil Scherrer, also a solar physicist at  Stanford, explained that during a magnetic field reversal the Sun’s polar  magnetic fields lose strength and then stop all together before appearing again  the other way around.

The increase of solar bursts have  implications for a huge area; its influence extends billions of miles past  Pluto.

Changes in the magnetic field affect what’s  called the ‘current sheet.’

This sheet juts out for billions of miles  from the Sun’s equator where according to Science@Nasa, the star’s  slowly-rotating magnetic field includes an electric current.

Although the current of electricity is small,  there is a large amount flowing through a region around 10,000km  thick.

The heliosphere – a region of space and our  solar system that is directly influenced by the Sun and its solar activity – is  controlled by this sheet.

When a magnetic field flips it causes the  current sheet to become wavy, which Scherrer described to Science@Nasa as being  like the seams on a baseball.

As Earth orbits the Sun, the planet dips in  and out of the sheet and these transitions can cause stormy space  weather.

It can also affect cosmic rays, which are  particles that travel almost at light speed, and these rays can be dangerous to  astronauts and space stations. Some researchers believe these rays also directly  affect how cloudy Earth is.

Wilcox’s Solar Observatory is continuing to  monitor the changes and is set to release a statement when the reversal takes  place.

 

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