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The sun's magnetic field to flip soon

By VERONICA LINARES, UPI.com   |   Aug. 7, 2013 at 8:10 AM   |   Comments

Aug. 7 (UPI) -- The sun is gearing up to change its polarity in just a few months, NASA officials have announced .

In an event that takes place every 11 years, the sun will change its magnetic field marking the peak of the solar cycle and the halfway point to the sun's "solar maximum" -- the peak of its solar weather cycle.

"As the field shifts, the 'current sheet' -- a surface that radiates billions of kilometers outward from the sun's equator -- becomes very wavy," SPACE.com explained. "Earth orbits the sun, dipping in and out of the waves of the current sheet. The transition from a wave to a dip can create stormy space weather around Earth."

Stanford solar physicist Phil Scherrer explained in a statement that the shift was a regular part of the solar cycle.

"The sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, go to zero, and then emerge again with the opposite polarity," he said.

Besides creating stormy space weather, the flip might also provide extra shielding from dangerous cosmic rays, which are high energy particles that can harm satellites and astronauts in space. According to SPACE.com, the wrinkled current sheet better protects the planet from the rays.

Todd Hoeksema, the director of Stanford University's Wilcox Solar Observatory, said in a statement that "we're no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal."

"This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system," he added.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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