The Sun’s about to flip out!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Sun magnetic field 2
This is an image captured by NASA on March 6, 2012, showing one of the largest solar flares this past year. A solar flare is a sudden brightening of the Sun’s surface, likely as the result of a big energy release.

Have you ever wondered why a compass always points north? It’s because of the Earth’s magnetic field. Turns out that Earth is a really big magnet with a “North Pole” and a “South Pole” that create a magnetic field around the whole planet. The needle on a compass lines up with the forces of the field, which is why it always points north. Well, the Sun also has a magnetic field, and according to NASA-funded observatories, it’s going to flip!

“It looks like we’re no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal,” said Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist from Stanford University. “This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system.” What kind of effects is he talking about?

There will be a lot of stormy space weather throughout space. Cosmic rays – which occur after a star explodes – are really harmful to astronauts and space equipment. According to the scientists, the cosmic rays might affect the very climate around our planet. Oh my gosh! Is this the end of Earth as we know it?

Actually… no. According to the researchers, this is a pretty common event. Ever since experts started monitoring the Sun in 1976, it’s already happened three times, and the effects will barely be felt on Earth. In addition to our planet’s magnetic field, the field around the sun will act like a barrier if any of these rays come our way. Phew, I thought Earth was going to explode!

“The Sun’s north pole has already changed sign, while the south pole is racing to catch up,” said Phil Scherrer, another solar physicist from Stanford. “Soon, however, both poles will be reversed, and the second half of solar max will be underway.”

The scientists say they are going to inform the public once the reversal is complete.

Images courtesy of NASA Goddard on Flickr.