Two huge sunspot swarms have appeared on the sun’s surface, suggesting the greatest chances for vivid auroras and potentially damaging solar flares in the coming months. Some of the sunspots are so huge they could be swallowed land everything.
Known as “active regions” 2993 and 2994 (AR2993 and AR2994), the new sunspot groups seem to be followed by a third sunspot group, still hidden behind the sunThe northeastern edge (or apparent edge) of ‘s, which appears to have caused a powerful solar flare that missed Earth a few days ago.
Each swarm consists of several sunspots and covers an area of hundreds of millions of square miles, much larger than the diameter of the Earth. They are caused by magnetic disruptions of the sun’s visible photosphere, which exposes the relatively cooler layers below.
The sun’s magnetic tangles and untangles occur in 11-year cycles, with each solar cycle having phases of low and high activity. Solar activity cycles have been numbered since 1775, when an extensive record of sunspot activity began. We are currently in Solar Cycle 25, which has yet to peak, suggesting there will be even more sunspot activity to come.
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“I’m sure we’ll see bigger [active regions] in the next few years,” solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told WordsSideKick.com in an email. “Active regions 2993 and 2994 are medium in size and do not represent the best of the Solar Cycle. 25 can produce”.
Pesnell said the current cycle is expected to peak in late 2024 or early 2025. Energy from active regions can be released as radiation (solar flares) and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are balls of plasma. super hot.
Such solar flares and CMEs can create beautiful auroras — but they can also pose a danger to power grids, satellites, communications networks, and potentially even space travelers beyond the protection of the Earth. earth’s magnetic field.
Solar Cycle 25
Jan Janssens, a communications specialist at the Solar-Terrestrial Center of Excellence in Brussels, told WordsSideKick.com that the sun had already been very active for the past few weeks and is not expected to become less active anytime soon.
last week, the Earth narrowly missed a solar plasma ejection linked to an even earlier sunspot group.
“This situation is typical at this stage of the solar cycle,” Janssens said in an email. “As the solar cycle heads toward its maximum, increasingly complex sunspot regions become visible, which can then produce solar flares.”
The records also show that the current level of solar activity is about the same as it was during the last solar cycle, and even lower than it was at this time during the previous two solar activity cycles, he said.
Pesnell, who is the project scientist for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, said a powerful class X1.1 flare detected on Sunday (April 17) it now appears to be from a third sunspot group that circles behind AR2993 and AR2994 in the sun’s visible disk.
Scientists divide solar flares into five classes, each 10 times more powerful than the last: A, B, C, M and X, according to NASA. Each category has nine divisions; and the most powerful X-class flares can pack more than 10 times the power of an X1 flare, so there’s theoretically no limit to how big they can get – the most powerful on record, in 2003, surpassed to the sensors at X28.
The Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that an X-ray pulse from the X1 flare on Sunday caused a severe blackout on radio frequencies below 30 MHz in Southeast Asia and Australia.
But it also determined that the CME of stellar material from the last solar flare will not reach Earth.
However, when CMEs impact Earth, they can have serious effects, for example overloading power grids or radio communications, or even harming astronauts in space. They can also directly damage satellite electronics and heat gases in the upper atmosphere to increase the drag of satellites in low orbits.
“Flares and coronal mass ejections will become more frequent in the coming years, raising the risk level of solar activity,” Pesnell said.
Until now, the modern world seems to have avoided the worst effects of solar storms, and power grid operators are now “hardening” their equipment against such outages.
But some of the worst solar flares in recent memory, during the “Halloween storms” of 2003, knocked out power in parts of Europe and South Africa for several hours.
Originally published on Live Science.