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Our sun to soon reverse its magnetic field

  1. Aug 7, 2013 #1
    A four minute video from NASA


    Let's hope the climate scientists start talking with the solar scientists.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 7, 2013 #2
    Why? What are the consequences of the switch?
  4. Aug 7, 2013 #3


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    Well, if it happens every 11 years, the consequences can't be too dramatic!
  5. Aug 8, 2013 #4
    Here is a link to some NASA 'news'....

    It is rather easy to pick some titles possibly related to changes in the magnetic field of the sun and our solar system heliosphere. See the left hand panel of subjects here:


    Regarding the solar wind,
    The article outlines one theory.

    Other possible effects of magnetic field changes in the sun are changes in the solar wind impacting our upper astmosphere. Maybe our own magnetic field? And coronal mass ejections, like the one that recently just missed earth, would also seem to be affected by major magnetic field changes. Such effects would seem to have possible long term consequences here on earth.
  6. Aug 8, 2013 #5


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    Cosmic rays are also affected. These are high-energy particles accelerated to nearly light speed by supernova explosions and other violent events in the galaxy. Cosmic rays are a danger to astronauts and space probes, and some researchers say they might affect the cloudiness and climate of Earth. The current sheet acts as a barrier to cosmic rays, deflecting them as they attempt to penetrate the inner solar system.

    "some researchers" I think refers to CERN and Henrik Svensmark's cloud chamber experiments of a few years ago.
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2013
  7. Aug 8, 2013 #6

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    More satellites fall out of the sky.

    The switch occurs just around solar max, when solar activity is at its highest. While the effects of the solar cycle on climate and weather are perhaps dubious, the effects on the upper atmosphere is well known. All that solar activity makes the upper atmosphere puff up like a balloon, dramatically increasing drag on satellites on low Earth orbit.
  8. Aug 8, 2013 #7
    I just checked and it looks like climate change discussions are still prohibited in these forums.
  9. Aug 8, 2013 #8


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    Tis a good thing that this solar max is one of the lowest in the last 100 years
    It will give the satellites a lesser impact than in the last couple of solar max's
    Its also been suggested that the next solar max could be even lower wonder if we will see another
    Maunder Minimum. The last one produced a mini ice age throughout much of the nthrn hemisphere.
    from wiki...

  10. Aug 8, 2013 #9
    Why is it changing? Can we entertain that or no? Is it changing for basically, dynamically speaking at least, for the same reasons the earth's magnetic field changes? For example, the equations which describe the fluctuations of the earth's magnetic field, are they similar to equations which model the sun's changing polarity? Can we do a side-by-side comparison of the two sets of equations and find similarities?
  11. Aug 8, 2013 #10


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    why is what ( specifically) changing ?

  12. Aug 9, 2013 #11
    There must be 'similarities' as both magnetic fields are plasma induced effects; there are likely differences as well since the plasma of the sun dwarfs our puny inner core of molten rock.

    There is a lot of detail about the 'solar dynamo', the origin of the magnetic field of the sun, which is not understood. [check Wiki if interested.] The solar wind of our entire entire solar system varies with the magnetic field of the sun. That affects our outer atmosphere as in the aurora borealis for example which is a visual effect, and a number of solar scientists believe has climate effects as well.

    Some solar scientists attribute current warming of numerous planets in our solar system to variations in the sun's activity...a lack of sunpots, as Davenn noted in a different context. The current very low level of sunspots suggests a cooler period should sunspot activity again increase as is expected. Last I read the activity level of the sun was NOT part of the UN IPCC [climate] reports. That is weird.

    The earth's magnetic field seems to reverse every few hundred thousand years due to changes in the liquid inner core of the earth; the magnetic field of the sun seems to reverse at about 11 year intervals, but I don't know how really periodic [regular] either is. I'd guess those periods are related to the size, the mass, of the plasma origins.

    [For some interesting contrasts between earth and sun cores, see here

    and here

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_core] [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Aug 9, 2013 #12


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  14. Aug 9, 2013 #13
    Alright, that wasn't bad but still no tamalie. Still, the dynamo theory remains intack from the thread I read above. That's where I wanted to start. Here are some quotes from Wikipedia:

    Alright, "magnetohydrodynamic equations":

    What in the system of magnetohydrodynamic equations uses to simulate the evolution of the earth or sun's magnetic field, what in those equations is responsible for field reversal?
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2013
  15. Aug 9, 2013 #14
    I'm guessing some aspect of chaos....randomness.....instabilities....etc...

    no tamalie here either....will be tough to get a precise answer until someone who works in the field replies...
    meantime, some things to get you started.....

    Thought I'd skim 'MHD' in Wiki.....lots of pieces....INTERESTING.....seems like the answer is complicated:

    ok, this seems to be along the lines I was guessing:

    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 9, 2013
  16. Aug 9, 2013 #15
    How about we look at the induction equation of MHD:

    [tex]\frac{\partial B}{\partial t}=\eta \nabla^2 B+\nabla+(u \times B)[/tex]

    which I'll write as:

    [tex]\frac{\partial B}{\partial t}=f(B,u)+\nabla+\eta \nabla^2 B[/tex]

    which is in some ways similar to a reaction-diffusion equation:

    [tex]\frac{\partial B}{\partial t}=f(B,u)+\eta \nabla^2 B[/tex]

    We know reaction-diffusion equations exhibit pattern formation and oscillations such as the Turing stripes and dots of the Brusselator model.

    And so I ask are the oscillating field reversals observed for earth and the sun caused by reaction-diffusion oscillations?
  17. Aug 9, 2013 #16


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    there seems to be no regularity in the Earth's field reversals. Looking at the data shows it to be quite random with no preference for one polarity or the other. The shortest period seen was 2 flips within 50,000 yrs, the longest is ~ 35 million years


    Solar magnetic field reversals on the otherhand are very regular. And in a couple of the papers that DH linked to described the process quite well. Here are the links DH posted in the other thread.....

  18. Aug 10, 2013 #17
    The two important MHD equations are

    momentum conservation:
    [itex]\rho \left(\frac {d\vec v}{dt} + \vec v \cdot \nabla \vec v\right) = -\nabla p + \vec J \times \vec B[/itex]

    Faradays Law using an MHD Ohm's Law;

    [itex] \frac {d\vec B}{d t} = \nabla \times ( \vec v \times \vec B - \eta \vec J ) [/itex]

    To accurately understand the reversal process you need to consider both the evolution of the magnetic field and the evolution of the velocity field. However the MHD model does not accurately predict the time scale of the solar dynamo reversal. With a Spitzer resistivity it is simply to slow. We know that you need to include more physics ( electron inertia, electron pressure, the hall electric field, kinetic effects, etc) in the Ohm's law.

    I'm not an expert on reaction-diffusion oscillations, but I suspect that the answer is no. In order to correctly model the field reversal, you need to account for the fact that changes in the magnetic field influence the flow via the Lorentz force.
  19. Aug 11, 2013 #18
    Very nice start guys. I did look at the four references cited by Dave. Kinda' tough but an interesting concept.

    I was mostly interested if the system of equations exhibit some sort of critical point, whereby if the state of the system were to pass through the point, a phase-transition would occur. An analogy would be pushing a glass of water across a table. While the glass is on the table, it's state varies continuously. However, at some point, when the glass is very close to the edge of the table, just a very small push, and the state of the glass of the water changes qualitatively as it tumbles off the table and crashes to the floor.

    I was just curious if the equations modeling the field reversal of the sun exhibit a similar type of behavior, that is, during the evolution of the field, if it ever reaches some point, some critical distribution over the surface of the sun, then by virtue of the dynamics of the equations, the field (orientation) will qualitatively change state to the new orientation.

    That is how reaction-diffusion works: if during the evolution of the system, it reaches a particular distribution (the details of which is not known), it will evolve into the distinctive patterns and oscillations.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2013
  20. Aug 14, 2013 #19


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    It's not that good. It's mainly dead satellites (and other debris) that fall out of the sky. We put stuff up faster than it falls down, but a little cleaning every 11 years is a good thing. A little less stuff for the active satellites to run into.

    It's too bad climate change can't be discussed. The absorbtion of heat by CO2 and the increase in CO2 means a little less "puffing up" of the atmosphere. The CO2 creates a barrier, keeping more heat inside and less heat escaping to the altitudes that low earth satellites orbit in, meaning long term atmospheric drag models should account for less atmospheric drag as time goes by.

    In other words, in the future, the space debris we create will hang around longer before it finally falls out of the sky.
  21. Aug 16, 2013 #20
    Reading the renewed "Voyager 1 has left the building" headlines that seem to be popping up from mainsteam science 'journalists' writing for popular, decidedly non-academic audiences on a seemingly monthly basis now got me to wondering...

    While it seems a near certainty that the Voyager 1 spacecraft is still in our solar system, if at the extreme edge of it's magnetic/particle boundaries (if not it's gravitational edge, given the vast expanse of the Oort Cloud.) These premature announcements appear to be the result of impatient humans more than anything else, so ignoring whatever we call the place Voyager is presently speeding through... I was curious what, if any, impact this magnetic flip might have temporarily on the craft's observations and what effects the process of switching polarity might have in that region, at the edge of the heliosphere.

    When this event happens, is there any possibility some consequential effects will be detectable by Voyager 1 instrumentation - the ratio of solar versus galactic particles, a temporary increase in high energy cosmic rays or in some other way? Or will it be a case of being so far out, with our solar system's magnetic field so expansive, that any brief hiccup during the flip gets ironed out by the immense size, distance and weakness of the field at Voyager 1's location?

    I'm sure such a question only shows my lack of knowledge on the subject, but nonetheless it popped in my head and seems unlikely to be addressed in the media/elsewhere sans specific inquiry.

    My reason for asking is simply in the hopes that we might be insanely lucky with the timing here - that Voyager is at the very edge of the magnetic field precisely at the once a decade flip, and so might be in a perfect position to capture some fascinating results at a stellar magnetic field's boundary during one of its polarity flips. Likewise, I expect this won't be the case, and for Voyager it'll be business as usual, but can only hope some exciting and unexpected results may come out of this fortuitous combination of events.

    Thanks in advance for any insight/answers/chastisement offered!
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  22. Aug 16, 2013 #21


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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliospheric_current_sheet#cite_note-nasaSolarmag-14 <--heliospheric current sheet discussion

    The polarity of the entire field will flip. NASA says the effects of a solar magnetic reversal will be felt across the solar system, even by the Voyager probes. But at the very edge of the heliosphere, the magnetic field becomes complex and confused, so solar physicists still debate about the readings from Voyager and exactly what happens when it exits the magnetic domain of the sun.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  23. Aug 16, 2013 #22
    wiki says voyage 1 is


    so with lightspeed 3 x 108 m/s, or 3 x 105 km/sec

    when the poles flip, should take about

    1.87 x 1010/ 3 x 105 or about 6 x 105
    seconds for the effects to propagate...at 60 sec/min,3,600 per hour,
    should reverse about 200 hours later just beyond the previous voyager spot.

    Some I guess, but the heliosphere is really, really weak that far out.....After almost 36 years en route it should have alread experienced several such reversals....I wonder what they showed??
  24. Aug 16, 2013 #23
    That's a good point, and I'd be curious to know as well given this will be the Voyager twins fourth solar magnetic field reversal witnessed since launching so very many years ago.

    Then again, 11 years ago (the last polarity flip occurring in 2002) Voyager was a good deal closer to the Sun than it is at present. In other words, given far more sophisticated instruments/dedicated solar craft that have been launched since, one would expect that prior Voyager experiences of the magnetic reversal paled in comparison to observations made by more recent probes and, although quite far away even in 2002, wouldn't have been apt to register any notable effects that couldn't be detected by a craft only 1 or 2 AU away from the sun.

    So with that in mind, that's why I was curious about this particular magnetic field reversal as it relates to Voyager - precisely because Voyager is right on the edge of the solar magnetic field's border at the moment, as a flip is imminent. I was hoping that being on the extreme distant boundary of the field might put Voyager in a perfect position to observe fluctuations/oddities which don't exist closer in where the field is exponentially stronger. Possibly even having the field temporarily weaken and recede, exposing Voyager 1 to true interstellar space for a short time before the polarity reversal completed and therefore returns to full strength.

    Likewise, I was afraid that it would instead be like your reply seems to indicate - due to being so distant from the Sun with the magnetic field dramatically weakened as a result, any fluctuation or turbulence is likewise lessened and makes Voyager 1 less apt to detect signatures of a magnetic reversal than if it were closer to the Sun.

    I guess we can always hope, since this is unprecedented and a venture into the unknown, something unexpected might still occur. I was just really, really hopeful that the extreme weakness of the field at Voyager's faraway locale might mean the ramifications of the reversal would expose the craft to high energy cosmic rays and the like more than normal, but it sounds like that won't be the case. C'est la vie, I suppose.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  25. Aug 17, 2013 #24


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    I'm puzzled, as is often the case. Some sources seem to suggest the solar magnetic field is carried by the solar wind. So wouldn't the flip propagate at the speed of the solar wind, and not the speed of light?

    I find some literature contending magnetic fields are "frozen in" to the plasma, and others seemingly suggesting the opposite.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2013
  26. Aug 17, 2013 #25


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    Comes news of a controversy over NASA's reading of the data. Its resolution may hinge with phenomenon of "magnetic reconnection".

    NASA scientists including Edward Stone, the father of the programme at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, say Voyager 1 has yet to pass beyond the reach of our sun’s radiation. But a study published last week in the Astrophysical Journal claims NASA scientists misinterpreted controversial magnetic field data and the satellite passed beyond the boundary known as the heliosheath a year ago. Put another way, Voyager 1 has left the solar system.

    According to Marc Swisdak, an astrophysics researcher at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, Voyager 1 made that giant leap on 27 July 2012, when it recorded a permanent drop in heliosphere-produced particles and an increase in galactic cosmic rays from outside the solar system.

    “Our three lines of data are consistent with Voyager being outside the solar system,” Swisdak told the Observer last week. “There’s a class of particles generated within the solar system and we’re not seeing them any more. Then there’s th
    e question of the magnetic field. You can get outside the solar system without seeing too much of a shift in the data.” As Voyager clears the distortion, he says, the magnetic data will begin to conform.
    “This is the first opportunity to take actual direct measurements of the particles and the magnetic fields,” said Swisdak. “Instead of a indirect, complicated chains of arguments, we can say what’s actually out there – and that’s something rare in astronomy. Voyager is allowing us to see what’s really out there.”

    NASA has yet to confirm the finding. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology, led by Stone, believe the craft is travelling through a mysterious region at the edge of the heliosphere. They have said they will know Voyager has left the solar system when magnetic fields emanate from the long arms of our galaxy, not the sun.

    But after running 100,000 processor hours of computer simulations on a Berkeley supercomputer called Hopper, Swisdak’s team claim NASA is failing to account for “magnetic reconnection” – when opposing magnetic field lines come together, snap and form new connections. They hypothesise that the magnetic fields of the sun and of interstellar space join in “magnetic islands” that make the border uneven.
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