If you’ve been noticing more and more headlines about solar flares and eruptions on the Sun’s surface recently, it’s all because we’re about to enter ‘Solar Maximum’ a full year ahead of when it was originally predicted to happen.
What is ‘Solar Maximum’, you ask? It represents a peak in solar activity when the sun’s magnetic field reaches its strongest, most disordered and dynamic point. This means that the strong solar flares that you’ve been reading about are only going to become more frequent and increase in strength over the next few years.
Let’s back up a little and dive into what it all really means…
What’s a Solar Maximum?
Our Sun undergoes a nearly periodic 11-year change in its activity and is measured in terms of the variations of the observed sunspots on its surface, indicating a change in its magnetic fields. The peak in this cycle is known as Solar Maximum. The last one occurred between 2012 and 2014 but was considered to be the weakest one in nearly 100 years.
However, the next one was predicted to occur in 2025 but researchers have discovered that it’s going to happen earlier than what NASA previously thought. We’re going to witness Solar Maximum in 2024 and it will continue for the next five years.
How will Solar Maximum affect the Earth?
So a Solar Maximum happens due to the churning motions of plasma inside the sun, which regulates the Sun’s magnetic field. During this period, we witness maximum numbers of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME). Solar flares are known to ionize Earth’s upper atmosphere and disrupt radio communications.
CMEs cause disturbances to the Earth’s magnetic field and damage power distribution grids. It also results in more bursts of very high-energy particles travelling towards Earth. These particles contain radiation and are super dangerous for the health of astronauts and any passengers and crew members on high altitude and high latitude aircraft. It can also damage space hardware and lead to satellite loss. The period would also see an increased number of auroras, or Northern and Southern lights.