"In fact, it's routine", says Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist at Stanford University. "This happens every 11 years (more or less) when we're on the verge of Solar Maximum."
Vanishing poles and magnetic reversals have been observed around Solar Max in every single solar cycle since astronomers learned to measure magnetic fields on the sun. Hoeksema is the director of Stanford's Wilcox Solar Observatory (WSO), that is observing its fifth reversal since 1980.
Sometimes the transition is swift, taking only a few months for the poles to vanish and reappear on opposite ends of the sun. Sometimes it takes years, leaving the sun without magnetic poles for an extended period of time.
"Even more strange," says Hoeksema, "sometimes one pole switches before the other, leaving both poles with the same polarity for a while."
Indeed, such a scenario could be playing out now. The sun's south magnetic pole has almost completely vanished, but the north magnetic pole is still hanging on, albeit barely.
How does all this affect us on Earth? One way we feel solar field reversals is via the heliospheric current sheet:
Most of all, the vanishing of the poles means we're on the verge of Solar Maximum. Solar Cycle 25 is shaping up to be stronger than forecasters expected, and its peak could be relatively intense. Stay tuned for updates!