How do sunspots affect space weather?

Astronomy inspires humility. But we humans like to feel special. This desire is so firmly rooted in our minds that every fourth inhabitant of Russia believes that the sun orbits the earth (according to VTsIOM data). Such an attitude towards reality is depressing, even despite Homo Sapien’s understandable tendency towards irrational thinking. And when the earth orbits a star at a distance of almost 150 million kilometers, it receives charged particles from the sun that affect the nature of space in the entire solar system. This hot, glowing ball of hydrogen and helium made life possible on our planet. The sun also controls the space weather, which can have a direct impact on our lives.

The recent increase in solar activity is associated with the sun’s approach to the most active phase of the 11-year cycle, and the peak of its activity falls in 2024.

Солнце, увы, не будет вечным источником света и энергии. Его эволюционный путь длится миллиарды лет, в течение которых звезда развивается, стареет и умирает.

Illuminates the darkness

The age of the sun is known to be about 4.6 billion years. Many scientists believe that our star and the rest of the solar system were formed by a giant swirling cloud of gas and dust called the solar nebula. In fact, the sun is not a unique or particularly complex star.

And even though the sun accounts for 99.8% of the total mass of the solar system, it is in fact just a large gas sphere. Fusion inside a star creates energy that travels to the surface of the sun on a journey of one million years. These processes will end in about five billion years, so we obviously do not have to worry about the star’s imminent death. And yet, scientists have many questions for the sun.

The solar system was formed about 5 billion years ago

The space weather depends directly on the sun, which throws out a stream of charged particles in the surrounding space – the “solar wind”. Sometimes particles break out of sunspots (colder parts of the sun’s surface) and create “sun flames” that can lead to power outages on earth.

Больше по теме: Самые распространенные мифы о Солнце: чему стоить верить?

The temperature on the surface of the sun (that is, the part of it that is visible to us) is about 5500 degrees Celsius. The surface of a star is called photosphere – the area from which most of the radiation comes out. The radiation from the photosphere is called sunlight, which takes about eight minutes and twenty seconds to reach the earth’s surface and our eyes.

space weather

By throwing charged particles into outer space – the solar wind – the sun thereby forms space weather that has a direct impact on geomagnetic storms on Earth. The latter occurs when plasma erupts from the surface of the sun coronal holes are low-density spots in the star’s outer atmosphere.

The speed at which the ejected plasma reaches the earth is important, because the higher the speed, the stronger the geomagnetic storm. The solar wind propagates at a speed of about 1.4 million kilometers per hour, but this speed can increase five times due to certain solar phenomena.

The solar wind is a stream of charged particles (plasma) that are emitted by the sun. The flow rate, density and temperature are constantly changing.

So the most powerful geomagnetic storm in all of observational history began due to a coronal mass ejection in September 1859. Studies show that if a geomagnetic storm of this magnitude hit the earth today, the cost of the damage would be $ 2 trillion.

Space weather includes all conditions and events on the sun, without exception, that can affect space and terrestrial technical systems, and through them, human life and activities.

Не пропустите: Солнце — величайшая загадка нашей звездной системы

solar bikes

The sun goes through a natural cycle about every 11 years, with its peak and decreases in its activity. The cycle is characterized by an increase and decrease of sunspots – dark areas on the surface of the sun. The largest number of sunspots in any solar cycle is called by scientists as “solar maximum” and the smallest as “solar minimum”.

Eruptions that occur below the solar maximum do not harm humans on earth, but have a significant impact on radio communications. Researchers recently reported a powerful sunshine that led to radio outages in Australia, the western Pacific and East Asia.

Sun cyclicity – periodic changes in solar activity.

NASA images show a large AR2993-94 sunspot cluster, indicating the sun’s awakening during the latest 11-year activity cycle that began in 2019 and is predicted to reach its peak in 2025.

Вам будет интересно: Сможет ли Солнце однажды превратиться в черную дыру?

However, there is a possibility that space weather will not come around the solar wind due to coronal mass ejections. And if this happens, the inhabitants of the earth will be able to admire the northern lights.

Solar flares and eruptions can affect radio communications, power grids, navigation signals and pose a risk to spacecraft and astronauts, NASA officials said in a recent statement.

Sometimes solar flames are associated with coronal mass ejections or streams of charged particles rushing into space.

The researchers also note that solar flames and coronal mass ejections will be a frequent occurrence in the coming years, which will increase the risk of solar activity. It should be noted that we have so far avoided the worst effects of solar storms, but that may change in the future.

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More sunspots

Sunspots are a way to measure the level of solar activity. As a rule, the more sunspots we observe, the more active the star is. Recently, scientists have discovered huge clusters of sunspots, some of which are so large that they could swallow the whole earth.

The detected “active regions” numbered 2993 and 2994 (AR2993 and AR2994) are likely to be followed by a third group. Scientists believe that it was she who caused a strong solar flare that passed the earth in mid-April. Each group on the surface of the sun consists of several sunspots that cover an area larger than the diameter of the earth.

The minimum and maximum of the sun looks like this

Sunspots appear on the outer surface of the sun (the corona), which remains on it from several hours to several months, after which they begin to decay, astronomers explain.

The reason for their appearance is probably a temporary decrease in the temperature of the star’s surface during the creation of a magnetic field. Astronomers have documented changes in the frequency of star spots on the sun since they were first discovered by Galileo and other astronomers in the 17th century.

Это интересно: Как Солнце очищает моря и океаны от разлитой нефти

We also note that solar storms, like hurricanes on our planet, are evaluated on a five-point scale. In general, NASA believes that the sun in 2022 will behave relatively calmly.

The more sun spots, the more sun flames

The researchers also monitor nearby stars and have even cataloged star-spot activity for 58 other sun-like stars. You can familiarize yourself with their work in the scientific journal Astronomical Journal and continue to observe the space probe Solar Orbiter, which has already taken amazing images of Venus, Earth and Mars and made it possible for you to take a new look at your original star.

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