As it turns out, the sun flips its magnetic field about every 11 years. “North” becomes “South” and vice versa. It’s all part of the sun’s cycle of solar weather. When the sun flips its magnetic field, it’s halfway into its period of greatest solar activity, known as the solar maximum (or solar max, if you’re cool like me). We’re in the midst of Solar Cycle 24, apparently, and when the field shift occurs, we’ll be halfway through the solar max.
The magnetic field flip will happen in an estimated 3 to 4 months, and it “will have ripple effects throughout the solar system,” says Todd Hoeksema, the director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University.
Now here’s a part that sounds really Star Trek: There’s something called a “current sheet” that radiates from the sun’s equator. It’s vast, extending outward for billions of kilometers. It’s ten thousand kilometers thick. Seriously, we’re talking about something really enormous, here—Pluto’s orbit looks teeny-tiny in comparison.
The current sheet is affected by those field reversals in the sun. It gets all wavy, for one thing, kind of like a warped vinyl record—so as the Earth keeps orbiting the sun, we move in and out of the current sheet. The movements can create stormy “space weather” around the Earth. (Possibly you are thinking that “space weather” doesn’t even sound like a real thing. I don’t blame you. “Let’s check on the space weather before we beam into that wormhole at warp speed, Captain!” Sure, that makes sense.) Space weather, though, includes things like solar wind, solar flares, coronal mass ejections and sunspots.
Ripples in the current sheet can also help shield our solar system from cosmic rays, superfast particles that are no good for astronauts and space probes (and might also affect our earthly climate, though the jury’s still out on that one).
There’s nothing like considering the grand mechanics at work in our universe to provide some perspective. Though some media outlets (and I use the term loosely) are using the real science behind the sun’s field flip to stir up inane fears—which is what has required NASA scientists to reassure us in the first place that doom be not at hand—rest assured that the universe is ticking along exactly as it’s supposed to.
If you want to know more about current sheets and space weather and the like, take a gander at this very helpful video:
Space iron shown in the blue nickel-rich areas on the virtual model, bottom left.
Did ancient Egyptians make jewelry out of metal from space? According to a new article in Nature, they did indeed.
Archaeologists believe that iron smelting in ancient Egypt started around the sixth century BCE. But an iron bead found in a cemetery in 1911 at Gerzeh, about 43 miles south of Cairo, dates from approximately 3,300 BCE. Scanning electron microscopy, optical imaging and CT scanning revealed the presence of nickel-rich areas on the tube-shaped bead, indicating celestial provenance. The metal, it seems, came from a meteorite.
According to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, who co-authored the study that revealed the bead's true nature, the finding offers a clue about the beginnings of the Egyptian religion. “The sky was very important to the ancient Egyptians,” she points out. “Something that falls from the sky is going to be considered as a gift from the gods.”
A rare crossing of Venus between the Earth and our sun begins in about an hour. The New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra is having a watch party out at Balloon Fiesta Park beginning at 4 p.m.—there will be a performance of Holst’s “The Planets” suite and other spacy compositions. Read Clifford Grindstaff’s article about it here.
The New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra performs The Planets while Venus transits
By Clifford Grindstaff
Classical music has nearly been relegated to soundtrack status; it’s often playing while something else is happening. Few of us spend quality headphone time with Bartok. Amazing classical music in movies or TV gets used as a backdrop or part of the staging, thereby chaining it to pop culture. Most people can't hear Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” without thinking of Tom and Jerry. Other times a movie is lifted by the music beyond its small budget and toward the heavens, as Star Wars was elevated by John Williams’ soundtrack.
It was an excellent weekend for UNM sports. The Lobo football team gets 21-14 conference win over UNLV, Steve Alford's men's basketball team opens the season with 92-40 triumph over New Orleans, and the men's soccer team takes the conference championship over Cal State Bakersfield.
Oh, also, Monster Jam was at Tingley this weekend all vintage-style.
Sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky suggest his youth mentoring charity might have been a pipeline for potential victims.