Home International Will the upcoming space weather season be windy or fair?

Will the upcoming space weather season be windy or fair?

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The good news about the sun is that there is no big news. Astronomers like to say that we are fortunate to live next door to a “dull star.”

But residents of (if any) planets orbiting the neighboring star Proxima Centauri, only 4.2 light-years away, are less fortunate. In April, astronomers announced this An enormous glow erupted from its surface in 2019. For seven seconds, with a battery viewed from telescopes on Earth and in space, the young star increased its output of UV rays by 14,000 times, in one of the fiercest such glows ever seen in our galaxy.

This was more of a serious sunburn area. “People on this planet will have bad times,” said Meredith MacGregor, a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado who led the global monitoring effort.

Space weather at this scale could sterilize potentially habitable planets, and it could herald bad news for the search for life outside this solar system. Even moderate space weather can disturb organisms that have already arisen and settled; Sunspots and sunstorms, which dwindle and fade in an 11-year cycle, spray energy that can put spacecraft, astronauts and communications systems at risk.

A new cycle of storms will begin any day now, and astrophysicists are divided over how active or threatening they are. The sun may be about to set records for numbers of sunspots and violent storms, or it may have been sliding downhill like the Maunder Minimum, from 1645 to 1715, when almost no sunspots appeared – a period when it became known in Europe as Little Ice age.

“We live in the atmosphere of a star,” says Scott Mackintosh, a solar physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “As a civilization we take our star for granted.”

Here, 93 million miles from the nearest star – which we call our Sun – we live and thrive mostly on the brink of nearly incomprehensible violence and sophistication.

The Sun is a medium-sized star, a ball of hot ionized gas, a million miles in diameter. The larger inner part rotates faster than the outside, and the outer layers rotate faster at the equator than at the poles. The result is a roaring nest of magnetic fields, which appears as sunspots and worse when the surface fractures.

Every second, thermonuclear reactions in the center of the Sun burn 600 million tons of hydrogen to 596 million tons of helium. The lost four million tons turned into pure energy make up mortgage payments for all life on Earth and possibly anywhere else in the solar system. When energy emanates from the sun, it rises through the cooler and less dense layers of gas respectively, and finally, after 100,000 years, from the photosphere, or surface, where the temperature is only 5,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Sun is surprisingly consistent in making these mortgage payments. A few years ago, an experiment in Italy confirmed that our star does not appear to have changed its energy production in at least the past 100,000 years, which is the time it takes for that energy to migrate from the core of the Sun. The researchers were able to calculate The amount of energy the sun produces in real timeBy measuring subatomic particles called neutrinos produced by nuclear reactions inside the sun, they escape in seconds and reach Earth in just eight minutes. They found that this energy matches the output that was produced 100,000 years ago and can only be discovered now.

The work does not stop at the roof of the sun. This gentle yellow photosphere boils like oatmeal and is filled with dark magnetic storms (infamous sunspots) cracking, spinning and hitting space with showers of electrical particles and radiation. The corona, made up of super-hot thin ends of electrified gas, visible only during a solar eclipse, extends millions of miles from the incandescent surface.

Things go wrong sometimes, although so far the scale is much lower than the eruptions seen on the Proxima Centauri. As the magnetic fields produced by all those eddies and electrified gases appear on the surface of the Sun, they become twisted and intertwined. Ultimately, they explode and reconnect in rings, releasing massive amounts of radiation and charged particles – an explosive solar flare that could be stronger than millions of hydrogen bombs.

Sometimes these flares blow out entire parts of the Sun’s outer layers into space, in events called a coronal mass ejection. The mother of all solar storms known to date occurred on September 1, 1859, when a mass of the sun collided with the Earth. Sparks set off from telegraph systems in Europe and North America, causing fires. The aurora borealis that night extended as far south as Hawaii and Cuba and were so bright that people could read their newspapers with their light.

In 2012, another coronal mass ejection event was barely missed from Earth. Earlier The study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences concluded A direct hit from such a storm could cause nearly $ 2 trillion in damage, shutting down the power grid and making satellites at least temporarily blind. Do not attempt to use the Internet or your local ATMs; The report indicated that many people would not even be able to clean their toilets without electricity to run the water pumps. “I think that we as a civilization have become tightened,” said Dr. Macintosh.

Such storms are most likely to occur during the high points of the Sun’s mysterious 11-year cycle of sunspot activity.

Recently, sunspot cycles have gotten weaker. During the last cycle, 101 spots were observed on the Sun in 2014, the year of peak activity; This was well below the historical average of 160 to 240.

Last year, a panel of scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that the next cycle would be similar to anemia, with a peak in 2025 of about 115 sunspots.

But Dr. Macintosh and his colleagues made radically different predictions of more than 200 sunspots at their zenith. They say the 11-year sunspot cycle, based on an analysis of 140 years of solar measurements, contrasts with the 22-year Hale cycle, named after its discoverer, George Ellery Hill. During that period, the sun’s magnetic field reverses its polarity, and then turns back on.

Each cycle ends or begins when two bands of magnetism meet, migrate from high latitudes opposite to the Sun, at the equator and eliminate each other. On average, each phase of the cycle lasts 11 years, but it may vary.

Dr. Mackintosh and his team found that the longer the cycle, the weaker the next cycle, and vice versa. The current cycle, the 24th since record keeping began, shows each sign of completion a little over 10 years later – shorter than average, which means the next cycle has to be strong.

“The SunSpot 25 cycle could have a size rivaling the first few since recordings began,” Dr. Macintosh said in late April. On Thursday, he and his team were still waiting for the “ignition” to begin. “It’s very, very close,” he wrote in an email. “We are watching closely.”

At stake, along with the health of our planetary infrastructure, is the pride that astronomers feel in feeling they understand the complex and violent processes that take place behind the relatively calm face of the sun.

“I think the problem with the sun is that we’re very close to it, so there is a lot of data about the sun,” said Dr. Mackintosh. He described it as a paradigm-breaking: “Your models will fail in the end. It’s part of the reason why the weather is difficult to predict, right? Because our observations are so detailed, but you know it’s hard to understand them quite correctly.”

Tony Phillips, the astronomer who runs Spaceweather.com, agreed in an email. “In my experience, when people really understand something, they can explain it simply,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that almost no one in the field of solar cycle prediction can explain their favorite dynamo model in a way that normal people can ‘get it’.

The situation reminded him of the proverbial blind men trying to produce the elephant theory, with one focused only on feeling the animal’s torso.

“Scott and Bob are standing by and shouting, ‘Guys, you are ignoring most of the elephants.’” In other words, there are more solar cycle issues than conventional models assume. Thus, according to Scott, they are doomed to miss the big picture. “

Jay Basachoff, an astronomer at Williams College, who spent his life observing the corona during a solar eclipse, said he did not place much importance in projections like this. In an email, he listed a meeting during the last session that had a “fun group conversation”.

The conversation, as he remembers it, is gone: “The next cycle will be stronger than average, the next cycle will be weaker than average, the next cycle will be either stronger than average or weaker than average, and the next cycle will not be stronger than average. Than average nor weaker than average. “

He added, “So my plan is to wait and see.”

Regardless of the potential risks, understanding how the sunspot cycle works is crucial “from a purely human point of view, if you want to understand the stars,” said Dr. Macintosh. “And if you think about it, the Earth’s magnetic field is largely the reason for the existence of life on Earth.”

He indicated that Mars does not have much atmosphere or magnetic field. He said, “If your planet doesn’t have a magnetic field, you can have all the atmosphere you want, but your local neighborhood star can throw it away with a heartbeat.”

In fact, astrophysicists believe that such a fate befell Mars, which was once warmer and wetter than it is now.

Proxima Centauri, a small star known as M dwarf, harbors at least two exoplanets, one of which is the size of Earth and close enough to the star to be habitable if not exposed to radiation. Dr. MacGregor offered one ray of hope for life in such neighborhoods.

“Recent work has shown that ultraviolet light may be very important for catalyzing life – converting complex molecules into amino acids and ultimately into single-celled organisms,” she said. “Since M dwarves are so small and cold, they don’t actually produce much UV rays, except when they are lit. Maybe there is a nice spot where the star is glowing enough to ignite life but not so much that it destroys it instantly!”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Algulf.net and Algulf.net does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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