(ORDO NEWS) — Two huge swarms of sunspots have appeared on the surface of the Sun, hinting at an increased likelihood of bright aurors and potentially destructive solar flares in the coming months. Some of the sunspots are so gigantic that they could swallow the Earth whole.
Known as “active regions” 2993 and 2994 (AR2993 and AR2994), the new sunspot groups seem to follow a third sunspot group – still hidden behind the northeast limb (or visible edge) of the Sun – which appears to be caused a powerful solar flare that did not hit the Earth a few days ago.
Each swarm consists of several sunspots and covers an area of hundreds of millions of square kilometers – much larger than the Earth’s diameter.
They are caused by magnetic disturbances in the Sun’s visible photosphere, which expose the relatively cooler layers underneath.
The Sun‘s magnetic entanglements and unravelings occur in 11-year cycles, with each solar cycle having phases of low and high activity.
The cycles of solar activity are numbered from 1775, when extensive recording of sunspot activity began. We are currently in the 25th solar cycle, which has not yet reached its peak, which suggests that even more sunspots await us in the future.
“I’m sure we’ll see larger, more active regions in the next few years,” said physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Active regions 2993 and 2994 are of average size and do not represent the best that the 25th solar cycle can give.”
The current cycle is expected to peak in late 2024 or early 2025, Pesnell said. The energy of active regions can be released in the form of radiation (solar flares) and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are superhot balls of plasma.
Such solar flares and CMEs can create beautiful aurora, but they can also pose a danger to power grids, satellites, communications networks, and perhaps even space travelers outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field.
25 solar cycle
Jan Janssens, communications specialist at the Solar-Terrestrial Center of Excellence in Brussels, said the Sun has already been very active over the past few weeks and there is no expectation that it will become less active any time soon.
Last week, the Earth nearly missed a solar plasma ejection associated with 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 moves toward its maximum, increasingly complex sunspot regions become visible, which can then trigger solar flares.”
The records also show that the current level of solar activity is about the same as during the last solar cycle, and even lower than it was at this time during the previous two solar cycles, he said.
Pesnell, who is a scientist at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, said the powerful X1.1-class flare detected on Sunday (April 17) now appears to be coming from a third sunspot group that orbits behind AR2993 and AR2994 on 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 bars, and the most powerful X-class flares can be up to 10 times the power of an X1 flare, so there is theoretically no limit to their power – the most powerful one recorded in 2003 overloaded the sensors on the X28.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center reported that an X-ray pulse from Sunday’s X1 flare caused severe radio outages below 30 MHz in Southeast Asia and Australia.
But it also determined that CMEs of stellar matter from the last solar flare would fly by Earth.
However, when CMEs do impact the Earth, they can have serious consequences, such as overloading power grids or radio communications, or even harming astronauts in space.
They can also directly damage the electronics of satellites and heat the gases in the upper atmosphere, which will increase the drag of satellites in low orbits.
“Flashes and coronal mass ejections will become more frequent over the next few years, raising the level of danger from solar activity,” Pesnell said.
So far, the modern world seems to have managed to avoid the worst effects of solar storms, and grid operators are now “fortifying” their equipment against such failures.
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