burn baby burn

The Sun has entered a new cycle of solar activity

Welcome to Solar Cycle 25.

The Sun fuels life on Earth, exerting influence over our planet's varied dynamic systems. But our host star has its own dynamics, too.

We know that the Sun periodically ejects boiling-hot plasma, in the form of solar flares and solar wind, across the Solar System. These ejections can have an affect here on Earth, disrupting communications systems for example, or interfering with electricity.

But this solar activity is not constant. Instead, it waxes and wanes across 11 year periods — a solar cycle. And in 2020, the Sun entered a new one: Solar Cycle 25.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 MOST UNIVERSE-ALTERING MOMENTS OF 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 8. SEE THE FULL LIST HERE.

In September, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that Solar Cycle 25 had officially begun, and, thankfully for us here on Earth, that it would be a relatively calm one.

The Sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 8:13 p.m. EDT on Oct. 1, 2015. NASA/SDO

Now, we know what you are thinking. How can this be Solar Cycle 25 if the Sun is billions of years old? The reason is to do with us: We started counting solar cycles as recently as 1755 — when the Sun was already 4.6 billion-or-so years old.

Solar Cycle actually began in December 2019, but it took 10 months for scientists to determine whether it had really begun or not, as the Sun is a variable star. Telling what is just regular activity and what is the beginning of a new phase of the star's life is inherently difficult for astronomers confined here to Earth. But these cycles are not a complete mystery to us. NASA convened a panel of experts — the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel — to tell us more about the new phase of the Sun.

Here's what scientists do know:

  • Solar activity largely depends on the Sun's magnetic field. The Sun’s magnetic field goes through a periodic cycle in which the south and north poles essentially switch spots, and it takes another 11 years or so for them to switch back.
  • Solar Cycle 25 will be similar to Solar Cycle 24 — so don't expect anything different to what we've experienced in the last 11 years.
  • Solar Cycle 24 was relatively calm — that cycle included the weakest solar maximum since 1928 — so Cycle 25 likely will be, too.
  • But just because it will be tranquil over all, that doesn't mean we should not expect to see a few flare-ups of solar activity as the cycle heats up.

One type of solar activity are solar flares, which appear in our observations as bright areas on the Sun — they're an intense burst of radiation, linked to magnetic energy associated with sunspots. These ejections can cause magnetic storms in the Earth's upper atmosphere, which can affect power grids, satellites, and orbiting spacecraft and astronauts.

NASA and NOAA have been working together to improve predictions for these flare ups so we can be better prepared for them down here on Earth, and in space.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 MOST UNIVERSE-ALTERING MOMENTS OF 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 8. READ THE ORIGINAL STORY HERE.

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