NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists forecast the new solar cycle known as Solar Cycle 25. Scientists believe that it has begun.
As we know that Sun is a star and governs our solar system. The activity of Sun impacts Earth and overall space weather. With the new solar cycle, scientists have also predicted how the upcoming upswing in space weather will impact our lives and technology on Earth as well as astronauts in space.
About Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel and Key findings
The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel is an international group of experts co-sponsored by NASA and NOAA. They announced that solar minimum occurred in December 2019 which marks the start of a new solar cycle. As our Sun is so variable that it can take months after the fact to declare this event.
As per the scientist’s prediction a solar maximum that is middle of the solar cycle will be reached by July 2025.
This solar cycle is going to be as strong as the last solar cycle, which was a “below-average cycle” but not without risks.
What is solar cycle?
On Earth, like seasons, the Sun also follows a cycle of 11 years. At this time solar activities fluctuate between solar minima and maxima.
Solar maxima depend upon the number of sunspots detected on the Sun as per scientists or we can say that solar maxima is the highest number of sunspots. And solar minima is the lowest number of sunspots.
Sunspots can be small and dark, yet cooler areas formed on the solar surface where there are strong magnetic forces. At Sun’s higher latitudes, they start appearing and later shifts towards the equator as a cycle progresses.
Therefore, we can say that when the Sun is active, there are more sunspots in comparison to fewer sunspots during the lesser active phase. In the 11-year cycle, maxima or minima is not a specific time but is a period that can last for a few years.
Till now, astronomers have documented 24 such cycles, the last one ended in 2019.
How solar activity is tracked by scientists?
They track it by using sunspots. The dark blotches on the Sun are associated with solar activity, often as the origins for giant explosions like solar flares or coronal mass ejections that can spew light, energy, and solar material into space.
The beginning of a solar cycle is usually characterised by only a couple of sunspots and is therefore mentioned as a solar minimum.
Lika Guhathakurta, a solar scientist at the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington said “As we emerge from solar minimum and approach Cycle 25’s maximum, it’s necessary to remember solar activity never stops; it changes form when the pendulum swings.”
How are solar cycles determined?
Researchers look the most important elements on the surface of the Sun that is sunspots. When the sun has reached its lowest possible minima phase, a new cycle commences. Every time cycle changes and the magnetic poles of the Sun reverse.
As Sun is a highly variable star, data of sunspot formation and its progress need close monitoring. Six to eight months of data are required to confirm whether the star has undergone a minima phase.
Telescopes were used to record sunspots traditionally and recorded data since 1755 is available. In recent decades, technology advanced and satellites also used to take real-time sunspot observations.
On this basis only, scientists announced the completion of solar cycle 24 which lasted between December 2008 and December 2019. Between the two cycles, the Sun’s activities reached its lowest minima and the new solar cycle 25 has now commenced.
What is the impact of Solar Cycle on Earth?
- The solar eruption may cause lights in the sky which is known as aurora or impact radio communications. If eruption takes place at an extreme level then it can even affect electricity grids on Earth.
- Solar activity can affect satellite electronics and limit their lifetime.
- For astronauts, radiations can be dangerous who do work on the outside of the International Space Station.
According to Jake Bleacher, chief scientist at Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA “Just like one checks the local weather before heading on a vacation, it is imperative to know the space weather. This will enable us to remain prepared, predict and plan mitigation measures ahead of space explorations, so as to build suitable hardware and critical systems.”