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Fact checking polar magnetic field reversal sensationalism, hype and misinformation


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I have seen a lot of media content regarding the "upcoming" polar field reversal of the sun and it's consequences, such as with this video from PBS Space Time published yesterday (June 20) . Of course mainstream science news is filled with a lot of oversimplification, hype, and sensationalism. This is especially true of headlines or implications that the field reversal is some terrifying event that will cause cataclysms, when as we know, this is simply a normal feature of the 11 year cycle.

Normally PBS Space Time is some of the more informed content, but I am left with questions after watching, because as I understood it, the magnetic field reversal is either already ongoing, or has already passed the tipping point at the end of 2023, but instead the video claims "Winter 2024" with the implication being end of this year. Is this simply a result of mistaken research for the video? Did they come upon reputable sources saying "Winter 2024" which actually meant this past Jan-Feb 2024 and make the mistake? This short from informative article from Stanford scientists states "The polar field values declined rapidly in 2022 and 2023 with the arrival of plumes of 'new' polarity flux from the active latitudes (see Figure 2) and appear to have reversed at the start of 2024."

The inserted image is the result of graphing the data from Wilcox Solar Observatory Polar Field Observations.

Wilcox SO Observations.png

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 This is especially true of headlines or implications that the field reversal is some terrifying event that will cause cataclysms, when as we know, this is simply a normal feature of the 11 year cycle.

That's in relation to the SUN's magnetic field. The reversal on Earth's magnetic field is what you're wanting to know about. I'll leave this to someone more knowledgeable now (I'm terrible and answering this stuff).

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56 minutes ago, AScaredObserver said:

That's in relation to the SUN's magnetic field. The reversal on Earth's magnetic field is what you're wanting to know about. I'll leave this to someone more knowledgeable now (I'm terrible and answering this stuff).

I am referring to the sun's field reversal in all aspects of my post. Including implications of doom.

e.g. look at this frankly unprofessional headline from Scientific American.

image.png.156af916790b76c7fb0556029d433e5d.png

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2 hours ago, AScaredObserver said:

That's in relation to the SUN's magnetic field. The reversal on Earth's magnetic field is what you're wanting to know about. I'll leave this to someone more knowledgeable now (I'm terrible and answering this stuff).

You may feel terrible about your knowledge, but you nailed it cold dude.  

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4 hours ago, Scott Winters said:

I am referring to the sun's field reversal in all aspects of my post. Including implications of doom.

e.g. look at this frankly unprofessional headline from Scientific American.

image.png.156af916790b76c7fb0556029d433e5d.png

The Sun's magnetic pole reversal happens every 11 or so years every solar cycle, and we're still here after countless millennia. The real question should be directed at EARTH's magnetic fields doing the same. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 6/21/2024 at 5:02 PM, Scott Winters said:

Normally PBS Space Time is some of the more informed content, but I am left with questions after watching, because as I understood it, the magnetic field reversal is either already ongoing, or has already passed the tipping point at the end of 2023, but instead the video claims "Winter 2024" with the implication being end of this year.

Yeah, I think I see what you are talking about here. BTW you are correct the solar polar fields have both already flipped/reversed back in 2023. 

If you go to 09:12 in the video, he talks about how the sun, after solar maximum, starts to reverse the magnetic field process, how Coriolis forces start to convert the toroidal fields back into poloidal fields with the north-south mini-loops in the solar interior reversing polarity. In doing so ultimately setting the sun back up for the next reversal. At one point it sounds like he's describing the rush to the poles. But this is a slow process. PBS is technically correct, but depending on how you interpret the information, could be misleading. The material presented seems to imply that another flip will happen this year, which is not the case. Pretty sure when he says "flip" at 14:37 he means the start of the reversal process, not the finish. 

I also noticed in this video they left out the tachocline layer, where much of the magnetic magic happens with the solar dynamo model. 

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On 6/22/2024 at 12:02 AM, Scott Winters said:

Normally PBS Space Time is some of the more informed content, but I am left with questions after watching, because as I understood it, the magnetic field reversal is either already ongoing, or has already passed the tipping point at the end of 2023, but instead the video claims "Winter 2024" with the implication being end of this year. Is this simply a result of mistaken research for the video? Did they come upon reputable sources saying "Winter 2024" which actually meant this past Jan-Feb 2024 and make the mistake? This short from informative article from Stanford scientists states "The polar field values declined rapidly in 2022 and 2023 with the arrival of plumes of 'new' polarity flux from the active latitudes (see Figure 2) and appear to have reversed at the start of 2024."

I watched that PBS video a little while ago, and from what I remember it was quite informative and accurate in its description of the process and where in it we're currently at. I can't remember what they said exactly about the timing though, could you provide a reference to where in the video it's mentioned, i.e. the "winter of 2024" part? From just that I agree that it's ambiguous, although I guess strictly speaking most of what's considered the winter season is at the beginning of the year.

Something also worth mentioning is that it's hard to pinpoint any exact moment where the polar field flips. The data you present is from WSO, and gives a decent picture of it, but as I've mentioned in a few posts in the Growth of Cycle 25 thread there's other data you can also use, notably the HMI data I've posted a few plots of (like here), which has values for more detailed measurements at different latitudes as part of a series. To illustrate with an up-to-date version of one of the plots shown there, note how the fields at different polar "caps" (from a certain latitude and all the way up to the pole) differ, as one would expect given how the reversal tends to happen gradually, with the most poleward fields tending to reverse last:

hmipolarfields.png

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1 hour ago, Philalethes said:

could you provide a reference to where in the video it's mentioned, i.e. the "winter of 2024" part? From just that I agree that it's ambiguous, although I guess strictly speaking most of what's considered the winter season is at the beginning of the year.

 

 

@Philalethes "Winter of 2024" is not exactly spoken in so many words. Head to 14:36 in the video where he states "the peak and accompanying flip are scheduled for later this year" (paraphrasing here). You'll notice an image at top right that says Winter of 2024. Taken in context they seem to base this on the maximum being moved up in the predictions. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Indrid Cold said:

@Philalethes "Winter of 2024" is not exactly spoken in so many words. Head to 14:36 in the video where he states "the peak and accompanying flip are scheduled for later this year" (paraphrasing here). You'll notice an image at top right that says Winter of 2024. Taken in context they seem to base this on the maximum being moved up in the predictions. 

Right, I see it now. I guess that image would imply the start of winter at the end of the year, but judging by its appearance I think it's half in jest and not referring to any exact time.

Overall what he says is certainly true though, about the development seeming to indicate an earlier peak and flip than what was originally expected; the exact timing of the flip is ambiguous for the reasons mentioned above, but the point is definitely valid.

Edited by Philalethes
above, not below
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