FAIRBANKS (AP) — The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is forecasting strong auroras visible in northern Alaska and parts of Canada at the end of this week, and some of that activity could be due to changes in the sun’s magnetic field.
The sun will undergo a magnetic flip over the next few months. This happens every 11 years, but KUAC reported scientists have been able to monitor what happens at the solar poles only since the 1970s.
The sun has a magnetic field with north and south poles. In a few months, its negatively charged north pole will have a positive charge and its south pole, a negative charge. Roger Smith, emeritus director of the institute, said it’s part of the normal process.
Charged particles in the magnetic field move in a constant fury because the sun is so hot, and the interaction of those particles with others in the solar system leads to colorful auroras, among other things.
“The sun actually, in a larger scale, behaves like a comet,” Smith said. “All the gases that stream off, stream off into a tail and it takes a long time for anything that’s got into that tail to propagate down, so there will be a ripple effect which will go on for possibly years.”
This year, the sun’s north pole is changing faster than its south pole, but Smith said that might be normal. Due to technological limitations, this is only the fourth time scientists have been able to record an event like this.
Magnetic reversals can affect radio transmissions and satellite communications. But Smith said in Alaska, the likely effect will be in the form of medium-level auroras.