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Solar Flip-Flop: Sun’s Magnetic Poles Prepare To Switch Places

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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GREENBELT, Md. (WJZ)—In a massive show of solar gymnastics, the sun is in the process of reversing its north and south poles.

Alex DeMetrick reports the flip-flop is not a surprise to science, although it still holds its share of secrets.

Like clockwork, every 11 years, the furnace that fuels our solar system does some fine tuning.

“We don’t know exactly why it’s 11 years. Something in the physics there we don’t understand yet,” said Dr. Alex Young, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

But what is understood is the sun is about to flip its magnetic poles.

Right now it is reaching the 11-year peak of solar maximum, the time when massive explosions send enormous amounts of solar particles into space.

“When we get to the flip, the sun’s activity is at its highest. We have the most solar flares. Those big blobs of billions of tons of solar material and those can create space weather effects,” Young said.

That weather stretches Earth’s own protective magnetic field like a rubber band, releasing energy that creates the northern lights.

The force can disrupt communication satellites and overwhelm power grids down on the ground.

But once the sun’s north and south poles flip, the sun enters 11 years of low activity and less disruption. That’s the good news, but it isn’t the only benefit from the flip-flop. Think of it as the force.

“This change in orientation does kind of propagate through the solar system,” Young said.

The flip generates an expanding bubble that actually helps push some of the small space junk orbiting Earth back into the atmosphere, giving a working spacecraft less to run into.

It’s believed that most, if not all, stars swap their magnetic poles. So do planets. Earth flip-flops its north and south poles every 10 million years or so.

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