Latest news on space weather points to possible solar flares as sunspots are growing in size. Astronomers have noticed increased solar activity after the sun kicked off its new solar cycle (Cycle 25) last year.
The human race has been studying our Sun since the 17th century ever since the invention of the telescope. But, even today, we know very little about our sun, which means our predictions may not be entirely accurate. What we do know is that the star began its new solar cycle 25 last year. But while world leading scientists expected milder action, the sun escalated its solar activity to be strong, with increased sunspots and emission of intense solar wind, flares and eruptions.
Although this news sounds concerning, especially with the growth of sunspots, researchers say that “there is no need to panic”. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), sunspots are the result of intense magnetic flux pushing up from further within the solar interior. Scientists say it is nothing out of the ordinary for the sunspots to ebb and flow. In fact, experts from NASA and NOAA expected Cycle 25 (current) to be just as weak as the previous Cycle 24, which was one of the weakest on record.
However, this does not seem to be the case. The study by a team led by Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research is proving to be more accurate. And they predicted that Cycle 25 might be among the stronger ones in recorded history.
Each solar cycle spans over roughly 11 years and the peak of the solar maximum for the current cycle is expected in April 2025. Up until then, we can expect the sunspots to grow larger. Or the strength of the cycle can completely fall through tomorrow as the sun can be unpredictable and “sometimes does weird things” says McIntosh.
This upward trend in solar activity can be a cause for concern here on Earth. Volatile activity in sunspots can produce significant space weather events, such as solar flares, coronal mass ejections, radiation storms, and radio bursts. These reactions can severely affect orbital infrastructure, knock out satellites and overload electrical grids. One such recent instance was when M-class flares caused a geomagnetic storm, wreaking havoc with 40 SpaceX Starlink satellites, back in February.
Unlike weather patterns on our planet, space weather is much more complex and unpredictable. With solar activity expected to increase over the next few years, we may witness more solar flares and even chances of spectacular aurora borealis. This means that the safety of space assets have become more critical than ever. It is vital for us to be armed with accurate space weather forecast systems.
- an OpenAPI for easy integration and management of alarms, alerts and planning
- and a Persistent Monitor that issues real-time notifications (alerts, warnings and critical information) of current space weather events in the form
These services are of particular importance to satellite operators, as the solar activities have the potential to impact satellite operations, including communications and orbital decay. The tantrums thrown by our Sun is not something that can be stopped or even controlled. It is up to us to manage our space operations to navigate around the solar activities to avoid damages to our technologies.