I recently read that the sun's polarity is going to change. Will this effect cause damage to satellites and/or affect its communication with ground stations?


Most satellites are very, very far from the sun. The closest spacecraft to the sun thus far has been Helios 2 at 0.29 AU (~43 million km). Right now, I think the closest operating would be MESSENGER (perihelion at 46 million km).

Although the sun's magnetic field is strong, this is still really, really far away. Those fluctutations aren't enough to be detected by most spacecraft. (the CMEs that get produced, yes, but not the flip itself).

The detection of the sun's magnetic field is done through remote sensing -- Phil Scherrer (one of the two quoted in the recent NASA press release) is the PI for HMI ... which is on SDO ... which has an inclined geosyncronous orbit.


And that's not to say that future spacecraft won't be affected ... there are two upcoming missions to get closer to the sun -- ESA's Solar Orbiter will attempt 45 Rsun (31 million km) and NASA's Solar Probe Plus will attempt 8.5 Rsun (6 million km) ... but they'll both be designed for going in that far.

(disclaimer : I work for the Solar Data Analysis Center, and help to maintain the caching system that's used to distribute the science-quality HMI data ... but I'm not a solar physicist)

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    $\begingroup$ It might be useful to note that this reversal is associated with the 11 year solar cycle. The change in frequency of CMEs during the solar cycle is obviously significant to satellite operations, but that is somewhat separate from the polarity reversal itself. $\endgroup$ – Paul A. Clayton Aug 8 '13 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ @PaulA.Clayton : the change of activity between min/max of the cycle is way more significant than the reversal -- think of the reversals as the inflection points on a line graph ... they're important for some things, but the average person isn't going to notice them. $\endgroup$ – Joe Aug 8 '13 at 15:50

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