While the solar cycle is not yet at its peak, the space agency said activity has already surpassed predictions. Solar flares and eruptions will likely increase from now until 2025, as we reach “solar maximum,” writes Nicola Fox, the director of NASA’s heliophysics division.
“During the Sun’s natural 11-year cycle, the Sun shifts from relatively calm to stormy, then back again,” says Fox. “At its most active, called solar maximum, the Sun is freckled with sunspots and its magnetic poles reverse.”
That sort of solar activity has impacts here on Earth. It could disrupt navigational tools like GPS, cause blackouts and problems with power grids, and cause radio communications issues. Strong solar flares, which are basically intense bursts of radiation, could also create health risks for astronauts, issues for spacecraft, and potentially create concerns about the health of flight crews and passengers on airplanes.
At 7:09 p.m. last Sunday, satellites detected an explosion on the sun and a “long-lasting eruption of a C9.3-class solar flare,” according to professional astronomer and science writer Tony Phillips‘s website Spaceweather.com, which monitors solar activity.
“The intensity is probably an underestimate because it was partially eclipsed by the edge of the Sun. Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory saw hot debris flying away from the blast site,” the site reported on Monday. “Earth is not in the line of fire. The explosion is significant because it may herald an active region set to emerge over the sun’s northeastern limb later this week. A new sunspot group could bring an end to weeks of relative quiet.”
While we’ll likely see more solar flares – and resulting complications – as we approach to 2025, there’s no need to fear a doomsday scenario.
“Some people worry that a gigantic ‘killer solar flare’ could hurl enough energy to destroy Earth, but this is not actually possible,” NASA explains.
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Plus, solar cycles repeat every 11 years. That means anyone over the age of 11 has already lived through a solar maximum (and probably didn’t notice its occurrence).