New ‘solar cycle’ has begun, Nasa says

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 16 September 2020 11:12
Comments
New 'solar cycle' has begun, NASA says
Leer en Español

The sun has entered a new “solar cycle”, Nasa has said.

Officially named “Solar Cycle 25”, it signals that there will be an increase in space weather that could have effects for technology on Earth as well as astronauts in space.

The finding will be key to ensuring that the world is ready to deal with the various problems and complications that can come as a result of that change in space weather, experts said.

The Sun’s activity runs on a roughly 11-year cycle, with the star moving regularly from quiet to active and back to quiet. Those periods of activity are known as solar weather, and while their changes have been watched for hundreds of years, many of their processes and effects remain largely mysterious.

Changes in the solar weather can have widespread effects: astronauts who are not protected by the Earth’s magnetic field can be struck by dangerous amounts of radiation, and it can also cause significant problems for radio communication technologies on the ground. As such, experts have suggested that the beginning of the new cycle should be an opportunity to make plans for the changes expected in the years to come.

“There is no bad weather, just bad preparation,” said Jake Bleacher, chief scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters. “Space weather is what it is – our job is to prepare.”

The solar minimum that marks the end of the previous cycle actually happened in December 2019, Nasa said. But the variability of the Sun means that knowing for sure can take months.

As the Sun heads into its new cycle, it could lead to dramatic events on the surface – giant explosions such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections. Those can spew “light, energy and solar material” into space, Nasa noted.

“We keep a detailed record of the few tiny sunspots that mark the onset and rise of the new cycle,” said Frédéric Clette, the director of the World Data Center for the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations, which works to track those sunspots.

“These are the diminutive heralds of future giant solar fireworks. It is only by tracking the general trend over many months that we can determine the tipping point between two cycles.”

Scientists expect that activity will rise until July 2025, when the Sun reaches its next predicted maximum.

They noted that this cycle is expected to be comparable to the previous cycle, which was below average. But that does not mean there are not risks, researchers said.

“Just because it’s a below-average solar cycle, doesn’t mean there is no risk of extreme space weather,” said Doug Biesecker, a solar physicist at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. “The Sun’s impact on our daily lives is real and is there."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in