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A solar forecast with good news for civilization as we know it

The sun is starting to revive again.

An international group of scientists announced Tuesday that the sun has emerged from the quieter end of its 11-year sunspot cycle and has now entered its 25th numbered cycle. (The numbering of sunspot cycles dates back to 1755.)

The researchers predicted that the next cycle would be rather quiet.

Solar scientists follow the cycle through the ebb and flow of sunspot numbers, which reflects the level of ferocity in the sun’s magnetic fields. Sunspots can emit bursts of radiation called solar flares as well as gigantic particle eruptions known as coronal mass ejections. If a gigantic coronal mass ejection hits Earth, it could overturn modern civilization, destroying satellites and inflicting blackouts across the continent.

A similar solar explosion in 1859, known as the Carrington event, disrupted telegraph systems. Today, the world is more electrically interconnected and the giant transformers that are part of the power grids are believed to be particularly vulnerable.

Just as economists wait months to declare the start or end of a recession, scientists delay such claims for solar cycles because they average 13-month sunspot numbers to avoid being fooled by short-term fluctuations. activity of the sun. Nine months ago, in December, the sunspot cycle reached its calmest state.

“We’ve gotten very good at modeling the evolution of polar magnetic fields,” said Dr. Upton. “This is one of the best indicators for the breadth of the next cycle and was one of the key features examined by the forecast panel.”

He said there were other indicators that this cycle would remain quiet, including a large number of spotless days during the solar minimum. But if the sunspot cycle increases faster than expected in the coming months, it will be a sign that perhaps experts have underestimated the intensity of the upcoming cycle, he said.

Even during the weakest solar cycles, the sun can set off gigantic explosions. In 2012, an eruption that rivaled the Carrington event erupted from the sun’s surface, but fortunately it wasn’t headed for Earth.

However, a calmer sun increases the odds that our planet will not be hit by a solar cataclysm in the next 11 years.

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