The sun’s polarity switching

There’s no need for people to be frightened about this pole shift

By: Charles E. Buban, August 23rd, 2013 10:27 PM

THE SUN’S magnetic field is poised to reverse its polarity in the coming months. photo: NASA

The recent news that the sun’s magnetic field is about to change polarity—North will be South and South will be North—will not wipe out Earth, civilization, or even our late-night snacking. Don’t even expect anything too crazy to happen, too.

Just like Earth, our sun has two geographic poles: the North Pole and the South Pole. But while the Earth’s magnetic field reverses at a very much longer timescales, which is every several hundred thousand years, the sun’s poles does it more frequently around every 11 years.

In fact, as announced by Stanford University’s Wilcox Solar Observatory—one of just a few observatories around the world that monitors the sun’s polar magnetic fields—the sun’s North Pole has already begun its shift and the South Pole racing to catch up (this means the sun has two South Poles at the moment).

Within 3 to 4 months

The pole shift, which is expected to be completed in the next three to four months, will cause less galactic cosmic rays to hit the Earth and ionize the planet’s upper atmosphere.

With the expected drop in galactic cosmic ray levels, scientists expect slightly lesser amounts of clouds as well as lightning flashes.

Galactic cosmic rays are high-energy particles that are accelerated to nearly the speed of light by faraway star explosions. They can damage spacecraft and hurt orbiting astronauts, who don’t enjoy the protection of Earth’s thick atmosphere.

Auroras

Those living in high latitudes such as Alaska, Canada and the Scandinavian countries could expect more intense auroras—those green, red or blue curtain- or ribbon-like light displays that move and undulate over the night sky.

Auroras are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern (Aurora borealis) and southern hemispheres (Aurora australis).

Although not expected, the sun’s shift in polarity could also induce geomagnetic storms that may have implications for Earth-orbiting satellites, telecommunications, electric power grids and other technologies. But don’t worry, our scientists and engineers are already prepared for such eventuality.

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