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An Intro to Space Weather: Watch this episode to see how the sun impacts Earth thru solar storms

According to the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel, we are now in Solar Cycle 25 with peak sunspot activity expected in 2025


In this first episode of “What’s Now & Yet to Come," show host Julia gives an introduction to space weather and how the sun plays a major role in it, to the point it affects the earth, directly.

"Earth's magnetic field helps to protect us from the effects of some solar storms, but how can space weather impact the Earth?"

Ever thought of space weather and how it directly affects earth?

Better yet, did you know that the sun is a major player in dictating the space weather, and that there are always storms occurring in space?

These storms are not not rain or snow, but winds and magnetic waves that move through space... This is known as space weather.

Rather than the more commonly known weather within our atmosphere (like rain, snow, heat, and wind), space weather can come in the form of radio blackouts, solar radiation storms, and geomagnetic storms caused by disturbances from the Sun--The term “space weather” refers to the variable conditions on the sun and in space that can influence the performance of technology we use on Earth.

Earth's magnetic field helps to protect us from the effects of some solar storms, but how can space weather impact the Earth?

Strong solar storms can cause fluctuations of electrical currents in space, directly impacting the power grid on Earth and energizing electrons and protons trapped in Earth's varying magnetic field. These disturbances can cause problems with radio communications, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (such as Global Positioning Systems or GPS), power grids, and satellites.

Imagine all the ways in which we are dependent upon satellites: mobile phones, weather prediction, TV, search and rescue, navigation, space travel, military surveillance, credit card and ATM transactions, and more.

What if those satellites were damaged? As we become more dependent on technology, the need for space weather monitoring and forecasting becomes more important.

Space weather forecasting and solar storms

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is the official source for space weather forecasts. They forecast solar storms, much like other National Weather Service offices forecast weather here on Earth. SWPC forecasters use ground-based instruments and satellites to monitor the Sun for any changes and issue watches, warnings, and alerts for hazardous space weather events. Just like there are categories used to classify hurricanes, there are also Space Weather Scales for communicating the severity of space weather storms. To predict these storms, forecasters watch the Sun for solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Solar flares are massive explosions on the Sun's surface. They often arise near sunspots and release a wide spectrum of photons such as X-Rays, visible light, and ultra-violet light. The biggest solar storms arise from coronal mass ejections (CME). A CME is an enormous bubble of plasma expelled by the Sun; it contains billions of tons of fast-moving solar particles as well as the magnetic field that binds them. The velocity of a CME can even exceed 5 million miles per hour.

NOAA’s space weather observing systems primarily involve the following instruments.

NOAA also collects space weather data from a variety of other sources, including NASA and international partners such as EUMETSAT, whose METOP satellites carry NOAA’s solar-monitoring Space Environmental Monitor (SEM-2) instrument.

The Solar Cycle

The solar cycle is a roughly 11-year periodic change in the Sun's sunspot activity, measured by the variation in the number of sunspots observed. Humans used telescopes to observe sunspots and solar cycles as early as the 17th Century; however, NOAA and NASA satellites are now major ways scientists use to study the Sun. The Sun just ended its 24th solar cycle in 2020 and is now entering Solar Cycle 25.

The solar minimum between Solar Cycle 24 and 25 - the period when the sun is least active - happened in December 2019, when the 13-month smoothed sunspot number fell to 1.8, according to the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel, co-chaired by NOAA and NASA. We are now in Solar Cycle 25 with peak sunspot activity expected in 2025, the panel said.

The total number of sunspots has long been known to vary with an approximately 11-year repetition known as the solar cycle. The peak of sunspot activity is known as solar maximum and the lull is known as solar minimum. Solar cycles started being assigned consecutive numbers. This number assignment began with solar cycle 1 in 1755 and the most recent being cycle 24 – which began in December, 2008 and is now nearing solar minimum. A new solar cycle is considered to have begun when sunspot groups emerge at higher latitudes with the magnetic polarities of the leading spots opposite that of the previous cycle.


Sunspots are small areas of particularly strong magnetic forces on the Sun's surface that appear as darker spots because they are cooler. During solar maximum, there is a high number of sunspots, and during solar minimum, there is a low number. Sunspots appear in a wide variety of shapes and forms. They can also change size and shape and may last for only a few hours to days and even months.





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