The sun is about to lose something important: its magnetic poles. It turned out thanks to the latter Measurements From NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which reveals that the magnetic fields in the polar regions of our star are rapidly weakening, to the point that they are on the verge of disappearing. According to astronomers’ expectations, this will lead to a complete reversal of the sun’s magnetic field, perhaps before the end of 2023. Should we be worried? What will happen to Earth?
Close to the “solar maximum”. Nothing serious. What will happen is routine because it happens every 11 years or so, when we are on the verge of “solar maximum,” the period of maximum activity of the Sun over the course of the solar cycle. In fact, during this period, sunspots increase, and our star’s magnetic field lines are more distorted due to the differential rotation of the star, forcing the equator to rotate faster than the poles.
Coups. Fading poles and magnetic reversals have been observed around the peak of each solar cycle since astronomers learned to measure magnetic fields on the Sun. Hoeksema, who is also a director Wilcox Solar Observatory (WSO) from Stanford University: “By collecting data over these decades, we have learned that no two polar field inversions are the same.” Sometimes the shift is rapid, taking only a few months for the poles to disappear and reappear at opposite ends of the Sun, and sometimes it takes years, leaving the star without magnetic poles for a long period of time. And sometimes something even stranger happens: one pole switches before the other, leaving both poles with the same polarity for a while. The possibility of such a scenario occurring by the end of 2023 cannot be ruled out. In fact, the Sun’s south magnetic pole has almost completely disappeared, but its north magnetic pole is still resisting, even if just barely.
The graph shows the trend in magnetic field strength in recent years, with forecasts for the next few months.
© CreditWilcox Solar Observatory
Northern lights. But let’s get back to ground: Will there really be repercussions? Actually something could happen. One way the Earth will sense reflections of the solar magnetic field is related to the “heliospheric current.” The sun is surrounded by an undulating ring of electricity pushed by the sun’s magnetic field and distorted to the edge of the solar system.
This structure is part of the Sun’s magnetosphere, and during magnetic field reversals, this current loop becomes particularly wavy (see diagram). As the Sun rotates, the Earth is immersed in such undulations – going in and out – that they become increasingly closer together. Shifts from one side of the ripples to the other can cause geomagnetic storms and aurorae. In the nineteenth century, one such coup led to a clear dawn as far away as Rome.
What will happen when the sun dies?
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