There are billions of stars in The Universe, but one alone dominates our cosmic neighborhood : The Sun. It’s an infernal sphere of mostly hydrogen and helium, super-heated into a plasma that burns at millions of degrees. It’s surface rages with violent explosions as it spews out storms of deadly radiation millions of miles into space. This yellow dwarf Sun is the reason for life on Earth and will also be the reason for its destruction by blowing away our atmosphere. It’s NOT a question of ‘if’ but question of ‘when!’

Solar Maximus

We know the Earth’s magnetic field acts as a shield against the bombardment of particles continuously streaming from the sun. Because the solar particles (ions and electrons) are electrically charged, they also feel the magnetic forces and most are deflected by the magnetic field our planet generates. However, our magnetic field is a ‘leaky shield,’ meaning that the number of particles breaching this shield depends on the orientation and strength of the sun’s magnetic field.

The Earth’s magnetic field therefore interacts with the Sun’s magnetic field, known as the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). The part of the Sun’s magnetic field that is carried into interplanetary space by the solar winds that bombard the earth constantly are responsible for the aurorae at both the north pole (Aurora Borealis) and the south pole, (Australis Borealis).

Our Sun and the Earth are hurling through space at approximately 70,000 km/hr (43,000 mi/hr) roughly in the direction of the bright star Vega in the constellation of Lyra. This is not an unusual speed for planetary objects in our suburban part of the Galaxy. Basically, the Sun is a churning ball of plasma 93 million miles from Earth, whose processes have an instrumental and complex symbiosis with the earth and its development to what it is today. Without it, it would not have been possible for us to evolve, nor could we now exist.

Changes of any kind of activity in the Sun can have an effect on our fragile planet. Whether it’s a fluctuation in the solar magnetic field, an expulsion of plasma called a coronal mass ejection, an emission of high-energy flares, or changes in the sunspot numbers, these variations can be dramatic.

Through careful study of solar activity (most particularly sunspots) over hundreds of years, scientists have discovered there is consistent cycle of activity which occurs every eleven years, where the Sun’s activity rises to a maximum, and then falls to a minimum. To plot this solar cycle, scientists plot the average of sunspots (a method devised by Johann Rudolf Wolf in 1848) and create a daily graph.

What they have discovered is that the sunspot activity (solar cycle) does not have the same magnitude every eleven years. Cycles can have lower activity levels than usual, as recorded around 1645-1700, known as the Maunder Minimum, or more activity than ever, known as the Solar Maximus.

Scientists have noticed a dramatic increase in the activity of sunspots and flares, as the sun heads into its peak in the eleven year cycle, but also enters its 100 year cyclic peak in 2012, when they are expecting to see more solar effects on Earth than ever before (magnetic storms, aurora, etc.) that could even knock out communication and global positioning system satellites all around the world.

Thus, it is also very conceivable that these magnetic storms could act as catalysts for a polar shift, and much faster than had been previously predicted. The Earth’s core (comprised of mostly iron with some nickel) is instrumental in our planet’s delicate rotation, making it responsible for creating the magnetic field that allows our planet to perform this delicate dance as it spins around the sun in its orbit.

What happens?

A magnetic storm can burst from the sun with the power of 10,000 nuclear weapons and when it hits our planet it could create the largest disaster in recorded history. A magnetic storm from the sun could wipe out electrical power and nearly every piece of electronics in the Northern Hemisphere. Its a planet-wide hurricane of magnetic forces that scramble all 21st Century technology possibly for good.

What causes this magnetic super-storm? Why is magnetism so powerful and yet so poorly understood? And is there anything we can do to prevent the Magnetic Storm? Could one be headed our direction during the Solar Maximum on 21 Dec 2012.