August 5, 2013
Something big is about to happen on the sun. According to measurements from NASA-supported observatories, the sun's vast magnetic field is about to flip.
"It looks like we're no more than 3 to 4 months away from a complete field reversal," says solar physicist Todd Hoeksema of Stanford University. "This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."
A new ScienceCast video anticipates the reversal of the sun's global magnetic field.
The sun's magnetic field changes polarity approximately every 11 years. It happens at the peak of each solar cycle as the sun's inner magnetic dynamo re-organizes itself. The coming reversal will mark the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. Half of 'Solar Max' will be behind us, with half yet to come.
Hoeksema is the director of Stanford's Wilcox Solar Observatory, one of the few observatories in the world that monitor the sun's polar magnetic fields. The poles are a herald of change. Just as Earth scientists watch our planet's polar regions for signs of climate change, solar physicists do the same thing for the sun. Magnetograms at Wilcox have been tracking the sun's polar magnetism since 1976, and they have recorded three grand reversals