The Loh Down On Science

The biggest flip-flopper in the solar system isn't a politician!

NASA

Red and blue lines represent magnetic field lines.

Don’t panic, but our sun . . . is turning upside down! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying: 

No worries.  You'll barely notice, and it will soon be back to normal again.

See, the sun, like the earth, has a magnetic field.  You could measure it for yourself if you got close enough to use a compass.  You know, without melting.

But something's afoot in the field.  Stanford astronomers say the poles are out of sync.  The field is weakening.  The sun's north pole went away, but came back as a south pole.  And guess what?  The south pole is becoming a north Pole.  But this isn't a directional change; it's magnetic.

We're headed into a good old-fashioned field reversal.  Totally normal.  It happens roughly every 11 years, in the middle of the sun's 22-year cycle.

Because the sun's magnetic field extends beyond Pluto, the effects of the flipflop will be vast.  But, say astronomers, barely detectable.  The switch may stir up some space weather nearby, but don't expect any atmospheric fireworks.

Or an apocalypse.  Okay?  Okay.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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