A new method for predicting the strength of the 11-year solar cycle is presented

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists from Skoltech, Karl and Franz University of Graz and the Kanzelhohe Observatory (Austria), the Hvar Observatory (Croatia) and the SILSO World Data Center at the Belgian Royal Observatory have presented a new method for predicting the strength of the 11-year solar activity cycle.

The results obtained are of great importance for predicting and minimizing the consequences of adverse effects of space weather on the health of cosmonauts and aircraft pilots, as well as on the operation of modern technical systems in space and on Earth.

The sun is not only a source of energy, light, heat and comfortable life on Earth, but also powerful emissions that have a direct impact on astronauts, space technology and ground infrastructure.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Galileo Galilei dared to point his telescope at the Sun and discovered sunspots there, and in the 19th century it became clear that they appear and disappear with a certain frequency – on average, every 11 years.

Today, observations of sunspots are carried out in more than 80 observatories around the world. The history of continuous observations of sunspots dates back more than four centuries – history does not know other examples of such long-term scientific experiments.

Spots on the Sun are visual markers of a powerful magnetic field that has risen from the bowels of the Sun. The magnetic tube, together with the solar matter, leaves one spot and, forming a huge arch, enters another.

Therefore, spots are mainly observed in pairs, in which, like a magnet, one side is positive and the other negative. In these arches, free magnetic energy accumulates, which can be suddenly released, for example, in the form of flashes or plasma ejection.

A solar flare in just a few minutes releases a hundred thousand times more energy than all the power plants on Earth produce in a whole year. The light from the flash reaches our planet in just eight minutes, and if not for the Earth’s atmosphere, we would all be exposed to powerful X-rays.

Fortunately, the dense layers of our atmosphere absorb dangerous X-rays, but, nevertheless, this does not happen without a trace, and radio communications and GPS can fail.

During one such outbreak in Sweden in November 2015, planes suddenly disappeared from the radar of air traffic controllers. When the Sun “spoils its mood” and a magnetic storm approaches, airlines are forced to cancel flights through the poles, where during such storms radio communications completely fail.

In addition, plasma clouds are often ejected from the solar corona into space immediately after a flare. These are the so-called coronal mass ejections – giant bubbles of magnetic plasma weighing several billion tons, which are pulled out of the Sun at high speed and can reach the Earth in just a few days if it accidentally gets in their way.

This is how the mood of the Sun is transmitted to our planet – a magnetic storm begins to rage on Earth and the aurora flares up.

“Now we are in the growth phase of a new solar cycle (#25) and more and more sunspots are appearing on the Sun. And the more of them, the more solar storms, flares and coronal mass ejections.

Recently, SpaceX launched 49 satellites (cubesats) into space as part of Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet project, but, unfortunately, the vast majority of the satellites never reached their intended orbit.

As a result, the financial damage to the company exceeded $ 50 million, and the solar storm turned out to be the culprit.

Therefore, in order to live in harmony with the exuberant temper of the Sun, it is extremely important to predict solar activity when planning launches and long-term space flights, calculating radiation levels during the flight of an aircraft, and solving many other tasks related to space weather, ”says lead author of the study, associate professor Skoltech Tatiana Podladchikova.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, developed a new method for predicting the strength of a solar cycle and showed that the maximum growth rate of sunspots in the growth phase of the cycle serves as a reliable indicator of its amplitude.

Previously, scientists presented a new catalog of hemispheric Wolf numbers, and in this work, using it, they demonstrated that taking into account the dynamics of solar activity separately for each of the hemispheres of the Sun makes it possible to more accurately predict the amplitude of the cycle.

“The magnetic field of the Sun is the driver of the 11-year cycle of solar activity and explosive solar events. As a result of the study, we found that more accurate forecasts of solar activity can be obtained using data on sunspots separately for each of the hemispheres of the Sun, where the asymmetry and phase divergence in the dynamics of the solar magnetic field between the northern and southern hemispheres are clearly visible,” notes the co-author research professor at the University of Graz and director of the Kanzelhöhe Observatory, Astrid Veronig.

The co-author of the article, Skoltech PhD student Shantanu Jain, emphasizes the practical significance of the study: “The results obtained allow us to accurately predict the dynamics of the solar cycle and prepare in advance for extreme space weather events.

With the growing dependence of man on technology in the 21st century, space weather can not only seriously disrupt the course of our daily lives, but also damage energy networks, communication lines and the Internet, and therefore lead to significant economic losses.

However, with effective and accurate methods of space weather forecasting, it is possible to avoid the serious consequences of the impact of the Sun on man and technology.”

“Our work has clearly shown how important it is to conduct research and regularly collect data on independently in different hemispheres of the Sun.

It should also be noted that our method can be used in real time: it allows us to continuously predict the amplitude of the solar cycle throughout the growth phase of the cycle and update the forecast every time the next value of the growth rate of solar activity is greater than the previous one.

According to our forecasts, based on available data, the amplitude of the current solar cycle (No. 25) will be at least 110 ± 26, which is comparable to the previous 11-year cycle (No. 24),” says Olga Sutyrina, one of the authors of the work, a graduate of the Skoltech master’s program. , who is currently a Research Fellow at Schlumberger.

“Such medium-range forecasts can only be made on the basis of observations covering long periods of time in the past and reflecting the actual evolution of the solar cycle over several centuries. In our work, we used the updated number of sunspots from the latest SILSO data, as well as information about the solar hemispheres from the photo catalog of the Greenwich Observatory.

Together, these data formed an even more extensive statistical database for creating a new method for predicting solar activity, ”comments one of the authors of the article, head of the SILSO World Data Center Frederik Klet.

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