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The sun is flipping out! Here's what you need to know

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 7th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Sun is literally about to flip out as it's magnetic field is about to reverse itself. As the hype and hysteria begins, what do you need to know about this spectacular event and how will it affect you?

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Doomsayers and purveyors of apocalypse have been seeking a new deadline for humanity since December 21, 2012. Now they have one. In a few months, the Sun will reverse its magnetic field.

What will this mean to us on Earth?

Unless you spend money to buy the book or subscribe to the doomsday website, the reversal will do nothing to you.

In fact, the Sun reverses its magnetic field every 11 years, like clockwork. Scientists can even predict within a fairly accurate window when this will occur. At this time, the window is down to sometime within the next few months.

The Sun follows an 11-year cycle of activity. At the peak of that activity, the surface of the Sun seethes with a boiling froth of plasma, and magnetic field lines become tangled. As these lines twist, they eventually break and cast large plumes of radioactive plasma into space.

For more than a year, the Sun has been ramping up its activity, headed for a crescendo of outbursts, which will culminate in a flipping of its polarity. The Sun will then enter a quiet phase that will last for nearly a decade.

These 11-year periods are called cycles. Remarkably, the Sun has had one of the quietest cycles in its recorded history. So although the Sun should be remarkably active and bubbling with activity, it has been surprisingly quiet.

Still, scientists are able to monitor the Sun's activity, even when subdued, and they now predict with certainty that the time has come for its poles to reverse.

A strong magnetic field protects Earth from the worst the Sun can do. A polar reversal is a major event for the Sun, but for us on Earth, if it weren't mentioned on the news, we would hardly know. The reversal has no discernible effect on the weather, or our safety.

The most common sign the Sun is active are geomagnetic storms which can be witnessed on Earth as the northern or southern lights, or aurora.

As charged particles strike the upper atmosphere, they cause molecules in the upper atmosphere to glow with color. During active phases of solar cycles, geomagnetic storms are more common and more powerful, so auroras are sometime visible outside of their normal, polar latitudes.

Beyond this, there is nothing people on the ground really need to worry about. Solar radiation storms can now be predicted and power grids, which can be susceptible to  these storms, can be managed to withstand the influx of solar radiation.

The greatest danger remains to astronauts and satellites in space, which can be exposed to extra radiation. Like power grids on Earth, these people and systems can be sheltered for the several hours it takes for such a storm to pass.

Unless you're a doomsayer or gullible and buy the survival guide, then there's no risk to you. Still, it's interesting to know that our Sun reverses its poles every 11 years.

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