The sun's magnetic field is gearing up to flip, a once-in-11-year event that can cause a series of ripple effects throughout the solar system, according to NASA.
"The sun's polar magnetic fields weaken, go to zero, and then emerge again with the opposite polarity," Stanford University solar physicist Phil Scherrer said a statement. "This is a regular part of the solar cycle."
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Scientists have recorded these "flips" since 1976, and say they coincide with the sun's period of greatest solar activity, known as the "Solar Maximum."
"It looks like we're no more than three to four months away from a complete field reversal," Stanford solar physicist Todd Hoeksema said. "This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."
The polarity switch in the sun's magnetic field is believed by some to cause climate changes on planets throughout the solar system.
"During field reversals, the current sheet — a sprawling surface jutting outward from the sun's equator where the sun's slowly-rotating magnetic field induces an electrical current — becomes very wavy," NASA says. "As Earth orbits the sun, we dip in and out of the current sheet. Transitions from one side to another can stir up stormy space weather around our planet."
Stormy space weather can lead to disruptions in high frequency radio and satellite communication, and — under extreme circumstances — the Earth's electrical grid.
The magnetic field flip may also affect cosmic rays, which are particles that travel almost at light speed, and these rays can be dangerous to astronauts and space stations, according to NASA. Some researchers also believe these rays also directly affect how cloudy Earth is.
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