The Solar Polar Magnet Mystery
NASA Science News made international headlines a month ago by reporting that solar physicist Dr. Todd Hoeksema, Director of Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory, predicted that the sun’s magnetic field would undergo a “complete” polarity reversal within the next 3-4 months.
Unfortunately, NASA Science News made misleading statements that fooled the world press.
The coming reversal will mark the midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. Half of ‘Solar Max’ will be behind us, with half yet to come
– NASA Science News, “The Sun’s Magnetic Field is about to Flip“, 8/5/2013
This statement and others made in the press release and in a accompanying slick ScienceCast video could hardly be more inaccurate.
Hoeksema himself wasn’t misquoted; he and Dr. Phil Scherrer were simply misreported.
The sun’s magnetic field is far more mysterious and interesting than NASA presented.
The Big Shocker!
NASA erroneously stated that “something big is about to happen”. It isn’t. It’s already happening. Polarity reversal has been well underway for over a year!
NASA didn’t report that Hoeksema was only predicting when the south geographic pole would finish flipping polarity to “complete” the reversal. Buried at the end of the story, NASA did report that the sun’s north geographic pole had already switched magnetic polarity.
What NASA missed completely is that, as of this moment, the sun has two north magnetic poles and no south magnetic pole at all. That’s not supposed to be possible.
Right now we have a monopole sun! Our sun is nothing like a standard magnet.
According to the revealing (but hard to understand) chart above based on Wilcox Solar Observatory data… and in chronological order:
- Solar Cycle 24’s sunspot maximum peaked in February 2012
- The sun’s north geographic pole switched magnetic polarity in May 2012
- Since May 2012 the sun has been a monopole magnet with only a north pole
- Solar polarity reversal (averaging both north and south) took place in May 2013
- The sun’s south geographic pole hasn’t switched magnetic polarity yet
Maximum solar sunspot activity was reached three months before the magnetic field reversal got into full swing. That is not unusual. It happened two of the three previous cycles.
That is a far cry from “something big is about to happen”. Cycle 24 reality is nothing like NASA reported.
Solar Polar Magnetic Mystery
The biggest mystery of all overlooked by NASA Science News is the 40-year decline in the sun’s magnetic field strength and what it means.
Nobody knows for sure why the sun’s magnetic field is disappearing.
The sun’s dwindling field strength is rapidly closing in on the 1,500 gauss boundary. Below that is the point of no return for sunspots. That point will be reached around 2022 during the next solar sunspot cycle. It is one of many reasons most solar physicists predict that next cycle will be the least active sun in over 300 years.
In the August 5th press release, NASA Science News did point out that the waviness of a polarity reversal better shields the inner solar system against cosmic rays that can have an effect on earth’s climate.
The part left out is that cosmic rays trigger cloud formation which then reflects more sunlight that, in turn, has a cooling effect on planet earth. A new report confirming the effect was announced by the Technical University of Denmark just yesterday.
Also left out is that the 40-year downward trend in the sun’s weakening magnetic field allows more and more cosmic rays to penetrate deeper into earth’s atmosphere and cool earth’s long-term climate.
Even the most trusted news sources can get things wrong. That is what happened at NASA Science News on 8/5/2013. Usually they do great work.
The unfortunate side effect was that the world press assumed an oversimplified view of solar magnetic field reversals and missed out on all the really neat stuff!
Like, for example, the sun today is a magnetic monopole. Like, for example, the sun’s magnetic field is dwindling into nothingness. Like, for example, sunspots might disappear entirely. Like, for example, the earth might be made colder over the next few decades because of changes on the sun to come.
That, folks, is exciting science news!!