Sun’s activity could peak 2 years early, frying satellites and causing radio blackouts by end of this year, experts say

An image of the sun shows a square protrusion jutting out from the sun like a waterfall

A “waterfall” of solar plasma has recently been spotted on the sun. Stranger solar phenomena have been observed recently as the sun approaches peak activity.Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau

  • The sun is becoming more active and may peak activity sooner than expected.

  • Solar maximum was predicted for 2025, but sunspot activity changed that.

  • An unusual sunspot outburst this year suggests that solar maximum could be reached by the end of 2023.

The sun is getting more active, which is expected. Our sun has an 11-year cycle of waxing and waning in activity. What is unexpected is how soon it will reach solar maximum.

We are currently approaching solar maximum, when the sun reaches peak activity, which experts had previously predicted would occur in 2025.

But the sun’s recent behavior suggests that solar maximum will reach earlier than expected by the end of this year.

“It’s about to peak sooner and it will peak higher than expected,” a solar physicist at the University of College London, Alex James, told Live Science.

Why solar maximum is a threat to Earth

Solar maximum is a time when the sun’s magnetic field is extremely weak, and that’s not great news for Earth.

Normally, the solar magnetic field acts as a shield, limiting solar radiation and reducing the risk of potentially harmful events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

Solar flares and coronal mass ejections are examples of solar storms. When the storm blows, it shoots high-energy particles into space. If those particles hit the Earth, they can cause a lot of damage.

Solar wind

An animation of the solar wind shows high-energy particles flowing from the sun towards the Earth.NASA

For example, a powerful solar flare earlier this year caused widespread radio blackouts that disrupted high-frequency radio signals in North America, Central America and South America.

In the past, powerful solar storms rocked Quebec’s power grid, causing blackouts that lasted up to eight hours. Solar storms have also been linked to the explosion of sea mines and the destruction of Starlink satellites.

Because experts think solar maximum is coming soon

When the sun’s magnetic field is weak, its surface becomes much more interesting to look at.

For example, the solar surface develops temporary black spots called sunspots, which are regions where the magnetic field is particularly strong in one area. This chokes the flow of hot fresh gas from the sun’s interior to the surface, cooling that region and making it appear black.

Sunspots

Sunspots, like the one shown here, are cooler than their surroundings, which is why they appear black. But don’t be fooled, the typical temperature of a sunspot is 7600 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA Goddard on YouTube

Meanwhile, the powerful magnetism behind sunspots can cause flares.

So as the sun becomes more active and its magnetic fields pulsate and entangle more wildly, scientists expect more sunspots and more solar flares and CMEs that can erupt from them.

Thus, by monitoring the number and frequency of sunspots, scientists can track the solar cycle and its progress towards maximum activity.

In 2020, a nationwide group of scientists issued a forecast that the current sun cycle would peak in 2025 with a peak of about 115 sunspots.

Graph comparing the number of sunspots on the sun during solar maximum and solar minimum.

The sun has more sunspots during solar maximum.The NASA/Joy Ng Solar Dynamics Observatory

But since then, sunspots have surpassed those predictions. January saw more than 140 sunspots, when more than 92 were not expected, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration database. May brought nearly 140 sunspots again.

Solar flares have also become more frequent and more powerful every year. An unexpected “invisible” CME slammed into Earth on March 24 and created a historically powerful geomagnetic storm, pushing the northern lights as far away as Arizona.

A number of other unusual solar phenomena also point to an early solar maximum: a vortex at the sun’s north pole, a “waterfall” of plasma, a twisted tornado-like protrusion, and giant “holes” forming in the sun’s outer atmosphere. .

Read the original article on Business Insider

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