Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Solar Poles to become Quadrupolar in May

Our sun is going to have four poles by May 2012 as per Japanese researchers who have been closely observing solar activity via the Hinode telescope. The sun may be entering a period of reduced activity that could result in lower temperatures on Earth. Officials of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Riken research foundation said on April 19 that the activity of sunspots appeared to resemble a 70-year period in the 17th century in which London’s Thames froze over and cherry blossoms bloomed later than usual in Kyoto. In that era, known as the Maunder Minimum, temperatures are estimated to have been about 2.5 degrees lower than in the second half of the 20th century.

The Japanese study found that the trend of current sunspot activity is similar to records from that period. The researchers also found signs of unusual magnetic changes in the sun. Normally, the sun’s magnetic field flips about once every 11 years. In 2001, the sun’s magnetic north pole, which was in the northern hemisphere, flipped to the south. While scientists had predicted that the next flip would begin from May 2013, the solar observation satellite Hinode found that the north pole of the sun had started flipping about a year earlier than expected. There was no noticeable change in the south pole. If that trend continues, the north pole could complete its flip in May 2012 but create a four-pole magnetic structure in the sun, with two new poles created in the vicinity of the equator of our closest star.

The polarity of the extended uni-polar magnetic field in the solar polar region is known to reverse every 11 years, and the reversal occurs at around the maximum of solar activity, which is expected to take place at around 2013 May (NOAA ). High latitude magnetic fields have been observed with solar telescopes on the ground. However, actual process of the polar field reversal is poorly understood because of the difficulty of the observations on the extreme limb combined with atmospheric seeing effect. The solar optical telescope aboard the Hinode satellite allows us for the first time to perform extremely high-quality observations of the deep polar region of the Sun. The initial discoveries include that there are many magnetic patches with intense magnetic field in the polar regions. Their field strength is close to that of sunspots, and their size is as large as small sunspots called pore.

The international research team led by Saku Tsuneta, a professor at NAOJ, has been performing the monthly polar observations with Hinode from September 2008. We here report the discovery that the average magnetic flux of the north polar region is rapidly and steadily decreasing during the period of 2008 and 2012. The reversal (from minus to plus polarity) is taking place in sequence from lower latitude to higher latitude. The average magnetic flux of the polar region soon becomes zero. The estimated completion of the reversal of the north polar region will take place in 1 month or so, about one year earlier than the nominal expected reversal time.

In striking contrast to the north polar situation, the magnetic flux of the south polar region has been very stable, and maintains the plus polarity. These latest Hinode observations suggest that the global magnetic field of the Sun will become different from the normal bipolar configuration. Observations of the polar magnetic fields are the key for understanding the cyclic solar dynamo. Their results will shed light on the origin of the solar magnetism, and will contribute to our understating on the Sun's effect to the solar-terrestrial environment.

Gathering all the information coming in from various sources and following my own intuition, reading the signs and synchronicities concerning the 2012 date ... I feel that the process has already begun, however the full completion of this evolutionary shift may well be a few years in the future ...

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