With multiple solar flares and coronal mass ejections rising into space, the Sun has had an active few months as the current solar cycle gains momentum.
This solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, is exceeding expectations in terms of activity as it was originally forecast in 2019 that Solar Cycle 25 would have a similar level of activity as the previous cycle.
However, Solar Cycle 25 has now surpassed the official forecast for over 24 consecutive months, with sunspot numbers already approaching those of the previous cycle’s maximum.
Average sunspot counts for January and February 2023 were among the highest in about 10 years, according to NOAA data, with 143 sunspots seen in January and 110 in February. Solar cycle 24 with 146 sunspots in February 2014.
The solar cycle follows 11-year fluctuations in activity that increase in the middle of each cycle towards solar maximum. The last solar minimum was in 2019, the next solar maximum is predicted for 2025. Solar Cycle 25 is so named because it is the 25th cycle since records began in 1755.
These increased sunspot concentrations have resulted in higher frequencies of solar activity, such as B. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have lit the night sky as far away as France with spectacular auroras and caused multiple radio outages triggered by geomagnetic storms in the past week alone.
When the twisted magnetic fields of sunspots suddenly realign, it can cause the Sun to release huge amounts of electromagnetic radiation in the form of solar flares, and also eject huge clouds of solar plasma as CMEs. These solar phenomena then react with the chemicals in our atmosphere, resulting in a kaleidoscope of colors seen in the night sky in the form of northern and southern lights, as seen around the world on Tuesday as a result of two massive CMEs on the 24th and February 25th.
“The CME causes the Earth’s magnetic field to move and reconfigure rapidly, and can also inject energetic particles into the Earth’s atmosphere. These particles tumble towards the poles and collide with molecules in the atmosphere, producing light of different colors depending on which molecules are hit,” said Huw Morgan, leader of the Solar Physics Group at Aberystwyth University in the UK news week.
Much of the light show seen this week was colored red rather than the usual shades of green. This is because many of the locations that saw the lights were further towards the equator than usual and therefore saw higher sections of the aurora.
“Although most people think of auroras as green, the higher parts are usually red. So when you see them from afar, there’s usually red over the green, but often not as bright as the green,” says Martin Connors, a professor of space science and physics at Athabasca University in Canada news week.
“Auroras are caused by electrons coming from space and are similar to old-fashioned fluorescent lights, which also contain high-voltage electrons. Depending on the voltage on the electrons, different colors of auroras dominate, but telling the electrons why having a different voltage is hard.”
On February 28, the Sun spat out an M8.6 class flare triggered by a sunspot region, causing brief radio outages in the US and Latin America.
“The solar wind plasma carries away the sun’s magnetic field; we call this the ‘interplanetary magnetic field’ (IMF),” said Brett Carter, associate professor of space science at RMIT University in Australia news week.
“Essentially, the Earth’s magnetic field acts as a shield that prevents the solar wind from entering the magnetosphere, but when the orientation of the solar wind’s magnetic field is opposite that of Earth’s, the magnetic field effectively ‘opens up’ (through a process called ‘magnetic Reconnection”) and allows the solar wind’s plasma to penetrate directly into the magnetosphere, triggering a series of magnetospheric and ionospheric current systems that can be detrimental to large-scale power grid infrastructure.”
As the Sun continues to approach its next maximum, expected around 2025, its activity is expected to continue to increase, bringing with it more solar flares and CMEs.
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