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Solar Cycle 24: How Epic is the 2013 Solar Maximum?

September 25, 2013 Solar System
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Credit: M. Aschwanden et al. (LMSAL), TRACE, NASA

Credit: M. Aschwanden et al. (LMSAL), TRACE, NASA

Since we’re virtually at the peak of sun’s solar maximum for 2013, it makes sense to have a look at how this solar maximum compares to that of previous solar cycles. This discussion may remind some of you that, earlier this year, we had three X-class solar flares within two days, which is rather impressive as X-class flares are the largest and most dangerous kind of solar flare. They are major events that can trigger radio blackouts around the whole world and cause long-lasting radiation storms in the upper atmosphere (hello, aurora). However, since these two flareups, we haven’t witnessed much activity from our closest stellar neighbor.

 

I keep track of solar activity as I get email updates of solar activity from the Australian Meteorology and Space Weather whenever there is a solar event larger than C8 (Solar flares are classified as A, B, C, M or X, and within a class there is a linear scale from 1 to 9). So, what does it mean that we haven’t seen anything above a C8 in recent weeks? That we’re having the weakest solar maximum in the past 100 years. Not only is this the weakest solar maximum, we had the weakest solar minimum as well. The actual solar activity is determined by the amount of recorded sun spots, and (obviously) this solar maximum has had less than previous cycles.

 

We are currently in the maximum of Cycle 24, each cycle (on average) lasts for approximately 11 years. Cycle 23 had smaller spots than some of the previous cycles, the largest of cycle 23′s spots appeared later on in the solar maximum and were in lower latitudes. Scientists assert that this can help explain why cycle 24 is unusually quiet. Weak polar fields at the end of cycle 23 were a precursor to a weaker Cycle 24, and with Cycle 24 showing even weaker polar fields, it is currently proposed that Cycle 25 could be even quieter than the 2013 solar maximum.

 

Graph shows, there are far fewer sunspots during this peak than  in past cycles. via NASA

Graph shows, there are far fewer sunspots during this peak than in past cycles. via NASA

Personally, I love the irony of everything that happened during the 2012 doomsday predictions–all the hoopla surrounding the impending solar maximum and how it was poised to destroy all life on Earth, and the fact that we’ve had the quietest solar maximum in a century…makes me chuckle a little.

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