Sun's magnetic field flips

7:58 AM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - Something huge just reverberated throughout the universe, and you probably didn't even notice: The magnetic field of the sun flipped.

Sometime in the last couple months, the sun's north and south poles completed a swap of negative and positive charges, said Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist and director of Stanford University 's Wilcox Solar Observatory, which has tracked the sun's magnetic field since 1976.

This reversal affects the entire solar system, although you likely won't notice any changes here on Earth.

The reversal of the sun's magnetic field happens every 11 years. The flip is associated with increased solar activity, including explosions on the sun's surface that can send electrified particles toward Earth.

In the past, these explosions have created electrical disturbances that impact power grids, flight communications and GPS units, said Alex Young, associate director for the heliophysics science division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

These disturbances could occur again, but it's unlikely, Hoeksema said, noting that the current solar cycle is the weakest in 100 years.

One of the most notable magnetic storms was in 1989. It caused a blackout in the entire province of Quebec, Canada. In October 2003, the "Halloween storms" created power disruptions in Sweden and South Africa.

Power companies have prepared for these types of magnetic space storms, Hoeksema said, and the public should rest assured there is no health danger.

USA TODAY

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