Are you ready to GET YO’ MIND BLOWN?
Okayokayokayokay. So you know how the earth’s magnetic field switches poles every so often? So does the sun’s!
The sun is currently at the peak of its 11 year solar cycle and is about to swap its north magnetic pole for its south and vice versa. According to Stanford University solar physicist Todd Hoeksema, the swapitself isn’t more than 3 to 4 months out. The north pole has actually already flipped; we’re just waiting on the south one to get its butt in gear and head to the opposite side.
So what does this mean for our solar system? What solar physicists focus on during this time is something called the “current sheet.” This is a surface that juts outward from the sun’s equator along which runs an electric current produced by the sun’s magnetic field. The current itself is small but the sheet is freaking huge, and it’s the thing that pretty much keeps the heliosphere (the sun’s magnetic influence) in check.
According to Phil Scherrer, another Stanford solar physicist, the sheet becomes really wavy and warped during a pole swap. So for us here on earth, as we zoom around in our orbit of the sun, we pass in and out of the sheet itself. This can cause disruptive “cosmic weather,” but the warped sheet actually offers the solar system better protection against cosmic rays.
Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory has observed three such polar swaps since 1976. This will be the fourth.
HOW. COOL. IS. THAT. I freaking love the sun.