A solar cycle advance may help spacecraft avoid huge energy bursts

A solar cycle advance may help spacecraft avoid huge energy bursts ...

A collaborative research effort between researchers in Belgium, Austria, Croatia, and Russia has discovered a new method to assess the strength of the solar cycle, according to an institutional press release.

Galileo Galilei directed his telescope toward the Sun to observe sunspots there in the 17th century. Over centuries, astronomers have discovered a correlation between their frequency and a longer time period, called the solar cycle.

As electrically charged gases enter the Sun, they create a magnetic field that flips every 11 years, according to NASA's webpage. This means that the North Pole on the Sun turns south every 11 years, and vice versa every 11 years, before it takes another 11 years to become the North Pole again.

The Solar Cycle's Effects

The alteration in the magnetic field on the Sun also results in powerful magnetic fields from the Sun's interiors, often seen as darker spots on the solar surface or sunspots. What Galileo and others discovered over the years were magnetic tubes that were carrying solar matter from one sunspot, completing a giant loop, and entering the Sun from another sunspot.

Sunspots also exist in pairs or opposite polarities, and the free magnetic energy that accumulates in these loops can suddenly be released in the form of a flare or coronal mass ejection (CME) in a matter of seconds, according to a press release.

Earth is protected from the harmful impacts of solar flares, like the 40 Starlink satellites that were deorbited by SpaceX after a solar flare disrupted their mission in Sweden in 2015. For a brief moment, airplanes disappeared over radars in Sweden in 2015.

Measuring the Solar Cycle

As many as 80 observatories are now observing the Sun from across the world. These events may lead to radio blackouts or chiar electrical grid disruptions. Yet, geomagnetic storms can be prevented from hitting the Earth.

So, a multinational coalition of researchers has come up with a new method to predict the strength of the solar cycle itself. The team demonstrated that the maximum growth rate of sunspot activity during the ascending phase of a solar cycle is a reliable predictor of the amplitude of the solar cycle.

"We have learned from our investigation that we may obtain more accurate solar activity predictions when using hemispheric sunspot data, which capture the asymmetric and out-of-phase behavior of the solar magnetic field evolution in the north and the south solar hemispheres," saidAstrid Veronig, a professor at the University of Graz.

"Our technique can be used in real-time, we can continuously predict the cycle amplitude over the evolution of the ascending phase of a solar cycle, and we can update the prediction when the most recent value of the growth rate exceeds the previous one," said Olga Sutyrina, a graduate student at Skoltech who was also involved in the research. "We predict that the lower estimate of the amplitude of the current solar cycle (no. 25) will be 11026, which is comparable

The findings have been published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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