The Sun’s face is increasingly dotted with such sunspots. It’s a sign that the new solar cycle is gaining momentum.
Sunspot May Flare on Thanksgiving
The Sun has cycles that last anywhere from nine to 14 years, but usually closer to 11 years, according to Forbes. Scientists can measure where the Sun is in its cycle by counting its sunspots.
The new sunspot is several times wider than Earth, and by Thanksgiving, it could be flaring.
Before the sunspot showed up on the Sun’s eastern limb, NASA’s STEREO-A, a space-based observatory, saw it. And scientists from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) National Solar Observatory (NSO) heard it.
How? Well, through a technique known as helioseismology. They listened to sound waves from the Sun’s interior.
“We can use this technique to identify what is happening on the side of the Sun that faces away from Earth days before we can catch a glimpse from here,” Dr. Alexei Pevtsov, Associate Director for NSO’s Integrated Synoptic Program, told Forbes. “Having up to five days lead time on the presence of active sunspots is extremely valuable to our technology-heavy society.”
Solar Winds Affect Satellites, Electrical Grids
Increased activity on the Sun can trigger solar flares and coronal mass ejections, according to Forbes. And those can lead to a stronger solar wind, which, if directed toward Earth, can harm satellites, communications and electrical grids.
Big sunspots, like this one, are particularly prone to causing solar storms.
Not only that, but two additional sunspots may be appearing soon. That would put the total higher than it has been in years.
The NSO keeps tabs on the Sun through six monitoring stations located in California, Hawaii, Western Australia, India, Spain and Chile. Each one monitors the Sun’s magnetic field nonstop.
The current solar cycle should peak around 2024 or 2025, scientists estimate.