The latest forecast for the upcoming solar cycle 25 has been released, and it hints at a weaker-than-average level of magnetic activity from the sun.
Solar cycles are fluctuations in solar magnetic activity that typically run for about 11 years. We’re currently in solar cycle 24, heading into solar cycle 25.
The sun’s activity has been declining for the past few cycles, and is expected to reach a solar minimum either by the end of 2019 or sometime during 2020. After this minimum the sun’s magnetic activity could start slowly rising again. Even with a slight uptick in activity accounted for in the next 11 years though, the overall activity is still expected to be fairly low as compared to average.
Why should we be tracking the sun’s activity like this? The sun’s activity can impact our satellites, GPS systems, electrical grids, and military communications. It also affects natural events, such as the Aurora Borealis. Being able to foresee the sun’s activity can help us prepare appropriately if we expect to be impacted.
While humans have been monitoring and tracking the sun’s activity for centuries, the solar cycle forecasts are still relatively new. This is only the fourth time that a prediction for a solar cycle has been released, but space weather forecasters are excited to keep moving forward.
The Solar Cycle Prediction Panel is hoping to start a solar flare probability forecast as well. Solar flares are eruptions from the sun’s surface that are often accompanied by coronal mass ejections, which release electromagnetic radiation.
Here’s the takeaway: We’re most likely to see very similar levels of activity through solar cycle 25 as we’ve been seeing. NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center does note though, that while they’re predicting a relatively quiet cycle overall, violent eruptions from the sun are possible at any time. One such eruption occured in 2012 but narrowly missed Earth, sparing our electrical infrastructure.