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The sun is about to shift poleward – what that means for Earth

The sun is about to shift poleward – what that means for Earth

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About every eleven years, the Sun's magnetic poles reverse, and this is the peak of the solar cycle. What effect does this have on the Earth?

MUNICH – Something big is happening to the sun: The celestial body at the center of our solar system is preparing for a polar shift. This phenomenon occurs approximately every eleven years, and is an important stage in the solar cycle, which lasts about eleven years and represents its peak. The last time the Sun's magnetic field reversed its polarity was at the end of 2013.

The Sun's magnetic poles reverse – which may seem dangerous at first reading, but actually has no negative effects on Earth. Most people on Earth probably didn't notice the sun's polarity reversal in 2013 unless they read the news about it.

The sun's poles reverse every eleven years

But what actually happens to the sun during the pole shift? Does this have an impact on the ground? To understand pole shift, you need to know that the Sun is made of electrically charged plasma that moves and affects the Sun's magnetic field. Over the course of an 11-year solar cycle, the Sun's magnetic field becomes increasingly stronger. Then increasingly “disturbances” in the magnetic field occur – so-called bulges and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). The latter ejects charged plasma from the Sun into space. As the solar cycle progresses, this activity becomes increasingly intense.

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When the sun changes, the positions of the magnetic poles change. (Artist's impression) © NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

If the solar plasma collides with the Earth, it is possible to create colored northern lights there, but also the dangerous side effects of a solar storm, which researchers repeatedly warn about. When the Sun approaches the maximum of its solar cycle, it is especially active. About eleven years after the last polar shift, the next polar reversal is imminent: the Sun's magnetic field collapses and rebuilds – but with the poles swapped: where the magnetic south pole was, the north pole is created and vice versa.

Sun polarity reversal: The north and south magnetic poles exchange positions

The Sun's impending polarity reversal will ensure that the magnetic south pole will be located in the star's northern hemisphere, and the magnetic north pole will then be located in the southern hemisphere. “This means that the Sun will have a similar magnetic orientation to the Earth, which also has a south-facing magnetic field in the Northern Hemisphere,” explains solar researcher Ryan French. in

The shift of the sun's poles does not happen overnight, but rather a slow transition from two poles to a complex magnetic field that does not have specific poles, and then to the reversed poles. “In short, there is no specific moment when the Sun's poles reverse,” French says. It may take one to two years for the poles to completely reverse. In the recent polar shift things have slowed down Information from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) It even took nearly five years for the Arctic to reverse.

In the coming months or years, the Sun will undergo a polar shift.  The north and south magnetic poles exchange positions.  (archive photo)
In the coming months or years, the Sun will undergo a polar shift. The north and south magnetic poles exchange positions. (Archive photo) © Imago/Nasa/SDO

Research does not know why the sun switches poles

NSO also emphasizes that the effects of the Sun's pole shift cannot be felt on Earth. The Sun Society is taking a closer look at this phenomenon. How quickly the Sun's reversed poles formed is of great interest to researchers, as this indicates how the next solar cycle might unfold. If the pole shift occurred very slowly, the solar cycle (period 26) would also be relatively weak. If the Sun reverses its polarity more quickly, the next 26th cycle will likely be relatively active and cause many sunspots and northern lights.

Earth's pole shift

The Earth also has a positive and negative pole, and experiences polarity shifts – although not as frequent as the Sun. The Earth is expected to experience a polar reversal approximately every 300,000 years.

By the way, researchers do not know exactly why and how the sun changes its poles. “We still don't have a really consistent mathematical description of what's going on. Unless you can model it, you don't really understand it — and it's hard to really understand it,” heliophysicist Phil Scherer emphasized in (unpaid bill)