The next five years are going to be full of disruptions.
Our sun is remarkable in all its mystery.
We are poised to learn a lot more about the big questions we have about the sun. The main one is how it generates and controls its magnetic field.
Earth orbits the Sun, but did you know that the Sun is in an orbit of its own?
Every 230 million years, our sun and our solar system make one orbit around the Milky Way’s center. That seems like a long time, but the distances are massive. The sun is also moving at a high speed, around 450,000 miles an hour to achieve its orbit.
We are lucky to have a solar center that is so calm compared to others in the universe.
It’s a G-type star, and is at the center of our solar system, providing essential light and heat to our planet. Other types of stars tend to be more active, sending up frequent flares and radiation bursts which make their planets less hospitable (to us) than Earth.
It’s located in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is a spiral of stars and planets we call home. Our sun is in one of the spiral arms, sitting about a third of the way out from the center of the Milky Way.
Although our sun is fairly stable, it does have distinct cycles of about 11 years.
We are coming up on an active period. This is the twenty-fifth cycle scientists have identified and they’ve named it Solar Cycle 25.
The action is ramping up, and we expect an increase in sunspots, flares, and something called coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
High levels of activity on the sun’s surface affect magnetic activity on the Earth affecting power grids, plane routes, and navigation and communication technologies.
Sunspots are dark areas on the sun’s surface that are cooler than the rest of the area. They are a result of surface plasma interacting with the magnetic field of the sun.
Flares occur when the plasma near a sunspot bursts up and out from the sun. A flare can cause geomagnetic storms on the earth, as energetic particles, x-rays, and magnetic fields from the flares rain down on us.
Geomagnetic storms bring spectacular displays of the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis, known as the Northern and Southern Lights. The light show is expected to become more dramatic and intense, visible at lower atmospheres.
Coronal Mass Ejections are outbursts of charged solar particles. Tiny bits of the sun break away and hit the earth’s magnetosphere, creating a light show.
Scientists at National Geographic are expecting this cycle to peak in 2025.
They’re also predicting a full solar eclipse in 2024, which will be visible from many populated areas in North America, like the one in 2017.
It’s going to be quite the show, an eclipse during the peak of solar activity is sure to reveal images we’ve never had a chance to observe before.
There are several solar probes already in motion, observing the ramp-up of activity.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is in a continuous orbit, swooping closer to the star than any craft has yet dared. They’ve already gathered a lot of information during their first four orbits of the sun and have published a paper discussing the findings. They include the discovery of magnetic switchbacks and the confirmation of a near-Sun dust-free environment as well as other fascinating findings.
The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter is also traveling around the sun, hoping to record our best observations of the sun’s poles to date. They hope to gain information to help us better understand the magnetic activity. One of their many observations has provided a close-up view of a CME as shown in the video below.
Close-up and wide views of the evolution of a coronal mass ejection (CME) on 12–13 February 2021.
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