March 25th, 2013 by James Ayre
Solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), and other solar activity, will likely pick back up sometime later this year, before 2013 is over, according to researchers at NASA. The sun has been somewhat quiet lately, even though 2013 is expected to be the year of peak solar activity for Solar Cycle 24. The reason for this, according to the researchers, is that this cycle is very likely a double-peaked solar cycle. Which means that sometime later this year, the Sun “should roar back to life”.
The Sun has been rather quiet since the end of 2011, only occasionally releasing powerful solar flares of CMEs. “But this lull is likely the trough between two peaks that together constitute ‘solar maximum’ for the sun’s current 11-year activity cycle.”
“If you look back in history, many of the previous solar cycles don’t have one hump, one maximum, but in fact have two,” solar physicist C. Alex Young, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, stated during a recent NASA webcast called “Solar MAX Storm Warning: Effects on the Solar System.”
“That’s what we think is going to happen,” Young said. “So we’ve reached one of those humps, and we think that eventually activity will pick back up and we’ll see another hump — a double-humped solar maximum.”
Until recently, most researchers had been predicting that solar maximum would probably occur sometime around May. But with how quiet things have been lately, it’s looking more and more likely that the peak won’t be until later in 2013, or even 2014.
Activity is ongoing though, even at its most quiet solar flares and CMEs are occasional events. In fact, a large CME erupted from the Sun recently, on March 15.
“This CME delivered a glancing blow to Earth two days later, sparking a mild geomagnetic storm that had no serious effects. Powerful CMEs that hit Earth squarely can spawn serious such storms, temporarily knocking out power grids, GPS signals and radio communications,” as Space.com noted.
There’s a significant upside to CMEs though, even with the potential damage thy can cause, the Northern Lights. The beautiful and brightly-colored auroras that often fill the skies of the north are created by the particles released in solar eruptions, which interact with particles in the upper atmosphere to created the phenomena.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO
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