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Sun swapped its magnetic poles

By el_guapo in MLP
Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 09:52:28 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

From here, the sun just swapped its magnetic poles!

Apparently it's No Big Deal(tm) as it happens like once every 11 years or so. But still, the sun? Just thought it was cool...


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Would YOU switch poles if it were possible?
o Yes 31%
o No 6%
o Maybe 14%
o Inoshiro!!!!! 12%
o Elguapo should be publicly flogged 34%

Votes: 63
Results | Other Polls

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Sun swapped its magnetic poles | 32 comments (20 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
Well... (4.10 / 10) (#1)
by Ludwig on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 02:47:31 AM EST

...as long as it still has two of 'em, we should be okay.

Sunspots? (none / 0) (#2)
by fluffy grue on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 03:57:37 AM EST

Aren't sunspots a result of magnetic flux on the Sun's surface or something, and this is just a normal part of the 11-year sunspot cycle? It's neat that we just had the start of a new period, but like you said, it's No Big Deal.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

editorial or topical (none / 0) (#4)
by kingcnut on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:54:59 AM EST

Well, the subject is topical to me since I just read in the New Scientist that it is currently believed that Mars lost its atmosphere due to a loss of its magnetic pole. Unprotected from solar winds the atmosphere was stripped from its surface. I doubt the sun will lose it's pole in the same way since it was the setting/thickening of the crust that dissipated the magnetic field.
hang on ... mod no higher than 2 for vagueness, it could have been the Scientific American (plays to crowd).
...if only i had included some links.

What about earth changing poles? (4.00 / 2) (#8)
by joto on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 08:59:55 AM EST

If the earth were to change magnetic poles soon (which the article mentions) things might be a bit more interesting. IANAA (I am not an astronomer), but I believe this would drastically reduce our protection from radiation from the sun for a short period of time. What would happen to us? How would this impact the environment? Would it be very serious? I can think of at least three scenarios:
  • Nobody notices except for the fact that magnetic compasses would become useless for a short period.
  • Electronic equipment, power-lines, etc.., would experience some major difficulties, but otherwise life would go on as normal
  • Major impacts on the environment. Radiation will be on a level that is dangerous for all land-based life. We will all have to stay in our cellars

What happened on earth last time radiation changed? I guess something interesting must have happened since we can date it..

Depends... (none / 0) (#9)
by theboz on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 09:08:09 AM EST

It shouldn't cause physical problems for us, however you were correct in the havok it could cause with compases and technology that uses it. As far as I know though, it wouldn't cause a lot of disturbance with powerlines and stuff, if any. And as far as as the radiation thing, I don't think that would make a difference. It's not the earth's magnetic personality that keeps the sun's radiation from hitting us, it's the ozone layer of the atmosphere. That's why they don't like having a hole in it very much.

[ Parent ]

A few technical corrections. (5.00 / 2) (#17)
by claudius on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 12:20:49 PM EST

I hope you'll permit a few technical corrections to your post from one who is a physicist by training:

First off, while the ozone layer does indeed shield us from UV radiation, it is less effective as a shield for energetic particles in the solar wind. This is something that Earth's magnetic field does very well--the zone between the upper atmosphere/ionosphere and the solar wind is known as the magnetosphere, and it is essentially a magnetic shield that deflects the solar wind around the Earth. Some energetic particles still manage to find themselves inside the magnetosphere, but these particles are largely trapped and confined by the magnetic field, as in the case of the outer Van Allen radiation belt. The magnetic field of Earth also helps protect satellites from damage resulting from prolonged exposure to highly energetic particles. Satellites are engineered with a certain radiation tolerance in mind; when this radiation flux is exceeded by a large amount or for extended periods of time, then degredation in their performance can be expected. (Witness how a number of satellites were disabled by the 1962 Starfish upper-atmospheric nuclear test, a test which injected 10^27 fission electrons into the lower magnetosphere and which created an artificial radiation belt at an altitude of 1.12 Earth radii above the equator. See Van Allen et al., Journal of Geophysical Research 68, 1963. Curiously, one of the ways that the radiation flux in the artificial radiation belts was inferred was by the rate at which Telstar I's solar panels were failing due to exposure to energetic electrons).

While the incident radiation will not be much of a problem for ground based systems such as power lines and communications systems, pulsations in the magnetosphere which may well accompany a magnetic pole flip can lead to the generation of intense VLF and ULF radiation, which in turn can have disasterous effects on terrestrial systems. The physics of the generation of these pulsations and their subsequent low-frequency RF generation is similar in many ways (though on a much larger scale) to the low-frequency "heave" that often accompanies high-altitude nuclear explosions, and also to the magnetic disturbances accompanying so-called "magnetic storms" or "substorms" in the magnetosphere. The geological record tells us nothing of whether in a magnetic field flip the field merely dims and grows smoothly or whether it flickers for a period of time before flipping. The latter may well have serious consequences for a certain technologically advanced, bipedal species of earth-critters.

[ Parent ]
We will be in trouble. (none / 0) (#10)
by Captain Frisk on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 09:17:51 AM EST

Apparantly every x (many thousands or more) years or so the earths magnetic poles do shift. It happens more or less periodically, and we are long over due for one.

From what I remember my E&M professor telling me, the amount of radiation we will be exposed to is fairly significant, enough to be dangerous. Even if we stay in our cellars, what about the plants, and other animals?

[ Parent ]
it will and has happend (none / 0) (#11)
by unstable on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 09:28:19 AM EST

studies of the sediment on the ocean floor say that this happens all the time on earth (evey so many hundreds of thousands of years or something like that.. no clue on the real number)
this is theroized that all major planets/objects in space do this (of course not proven) I dont know when the next one is due but it should be an interesting situation.

Reverend Unstable
all praise the almighty Bob
and be filled with slack

[ Parent ]
Probably not too dire (3.00 / 1) (#12)
by p4k on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 09:57:57 AM EST

Apparently the Earth's magnetical field reverses about every 250 000 years or so... and the next one is due in just 4 000 years!

The main evidence backing this comes from studing the magnetism of volcanic rocks, as the prevailing magnetic field at the time the rock congeals will be "frozen" in. If you can date the rock by other means (most likely by radioactive decay), you know the orientation of the magnetic field at that time.

Fortunately the fossil record shows no evidence of any impact from field reversals, most likely the atmosphere absorbs the extra radiation well before it reaches ground level.

[ Parent ]

Air Travel (none / 0) (#16)
by FlightTest on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 12:14:48 PM EST

The article doesn't say how long the polar flip took on the sun, and I have no idea how long it would take on earth, but if it happend quickly (say, less than an hour), I'd sure hate to be airborne when it happened. Virtually all aircraft still depend on magnetic heading indicators for primary navigation. Not a compass per se (although all U.S. aircraft are required to have a compass), but usually a flux gate that drives the primary heading indicator. Sure, some of the ultra-recent aircraft do display a heading from GPS, but even they have some sort of magnetic heading indicator. I think the initial reaction would be to assume the GPS signal is faulty since most people think of the earth's magnetic field as a constant. As a pilot, it would be very confusing to try to sort out while airborne, especially since the compass is one of the few things that's "always right".

Worse, most of the U.S. aircraft fleet (as in, all the small stuff, it vastly outnumbers the big stuff) is entirely dependent on magnetic navigation. You usually set the directional gyro manually, then periodically recheck it. But if you looked up and saw a big discrepancy between the gyro and the compass, you'd assume the gyro was about to die, since that is a primary failure mode of gyros. You'd presume it was dead and start navigating off the compass.

Now you've got all these airplanes going all over the place, everyone confused because things aren't matching up at all, ATC yelling at airplanes because the headings they're flying aren't what ATC wants. At some point, virtually every aircraft starts declaring an emergency because their navigation equipment isn't working right. It would be a huge mess, that I think we'd be lucky to not have large scale loss of life as a result.

So much for the alarmist point of view. If it happened fairly slowly (say, less than 5 degrees per hour), pilots could compensate until the scientific community got the word out, and ATC was informed so they could broadcast it. You'd still end up with a few people in small airplanes getting very lost because they hadn't heard about it, or weren't talking to ATC. It's still possible to fly in a lot of the U.S. with no electrical system (and therefore no radio). But loss of life would be minimal or none, since all of the aircraft that weren't in contact with ATC would be in visual conditions, and probably flying somewhat by landmarks anyways.

Why did I flip? I got tired of coming up with last minute desparate solutions to impossible problems created by other fucking people.
[ Parent ]
short period (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by joto on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 02:29:56 PM EST

It was probably a bit unwise of me to use the wording "short period" of the time when earth would shift magnetic poles. I did some research after my post, and from what I understand now, this "short period" will probably be measured in centuries, not hours. Which of course makes it a lot more critical if the radiation level really is high enough to be dangerous to us and the environment around us. But I think we can conclude that air traffic will be safe.

[ Parent ]
Correct me if I'm wrong, but... (none / 0) (#25)
by ncohen on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 11:01:28 PM EST

Nobody notices except for the fact that magnetic compasses would become useless for a short period

I admit, my knowledge on this subject is restricted to the Discovery Channel, but, I seem to recall hearing that the magnetic "blackout" during Earth's polar flips is far longer than a "short period." IIRC, the figure was in the thousands of years. It's certainly minute in geologic time, but for us, well, it'd suck.
"(A+Bn)/n = x, hence God exists, reply!"
[ Parent ]

wait till the earth does it (4.50 / 4) (#15)
by rebelcool on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 11:30:01 AM EST

the earth also swaps its magnetic poles, only at a much more random fashion (from 5000-5 million years). The last occured 740,000 years ago and some say we're overdue for another one.

Now wont THAT cause chaos.

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no, it won't (1.66 / 3) (#23)
by xriso on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 06:59:43 PM EST

afaik, it happens really slowly, so we wouldn't notice in our lifetime
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)
[ Parent ]
re: no it won't (none / 0) (#31)
by mikael_j on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 02:52:10 PM EST

If you are talking about how the poles move, then you are (IIRC) wrong. What the previous poster was talking about was most likely how the earth every few thousand years or so swaps it's poles real quick (I think it takes something like a few months, could be wrong though...)

/Mikael Jacobson
We give a bad name to the internet in general. - Rusty
[ Parent ]
It will cause slow chaos. (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by Parity on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 06:09:31 PM EST

According to the Twenty Ways the World Could End link, submitted elsewhere under this article by another poster, the reversal of the magnetic poles, while being slow, also involves having no magnetic field for about a century... during which time we are highly vulnerable to radiation, in danger of losing atmosphere, etc., so it will, in fact, cause tremendous chaos.

Parity None

[ Parent ]
well (2.00 / 2) (#22)
by /dev/trash on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 05:31:43 PM EST

yeah well if that's cool wait til the Earth has a swappin of poles!!!

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
Earth's Magnetic Swapping (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by MicroBerto on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 12:13:57 AM EST

This is actually listed as one of the 20 Ways The World Could End on Discovery (I think I got this link from here or slashdot).. it's very interesting, and lets hope that it doesn't happen to us here! :)

- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip
Sun swapped its magnetic poles? (4.00 / 2) (#28)
by karl_hungus on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 11:21:04 PM EST

Does that mean they'll be embracing .NET now?

OK, this just irks me (3.66 / 3) (#30)
by el_guapo on Wed Feb 21, 2001 at 10:40:44 AM EST

WTF is up with all the "flesh it out, write it up more, research it more" BS!?!? M == "Mindless". MLP is all i have TIME to post, and even i DID have the time, i probaly wouldn't anyways - i've seen way too many "your grammar sucks, -1 and resubmit" "your layout sucks, -1 and resubmit", "i'm sorry, i just don't care about this, -1" (that one is kinda ironic, eh? that's what that "0" is for) <for the record, i DO have the time in the evenings and at night, but i have better things to do then, like watching all the gratuitous hooter shots in species 2> how can a MLP story EVER be criticized as "not researched enough"???????? I had a link, and i posted it. if you want more non-MLP stuff then quit nitpicking the folks who take the time to write up a more indepth article, if you do THAT, then maybe more folks would do it as well (like me)...sorry </vent>
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
Sun swapped its magnetic poles | 32 comments (20 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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