Nasa has recorded the strongest solar flare from the sun since October 2017.
The space agency said the flare will pose no danger to our planet but the heightened activity could mean the start of a new solar cycle.
We’re currently in a period known as ‘solar minimum’ when the sun is less active.
During the minimum, there are significantly fewer sunspots and its magnetic field weakens, allowing cosmic rays from outside our solar system to rain down on Earth.
However, with the detection of this flare and increased sunspots by Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), things could be about to change. Every 11 years or so, the sun’s magnetic field will flip and change the activity of our parent star.
A more active sun could lead to gigantic eruptions from the surface, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that can sometimes reach us on Earth. The result may be more visible auroras and even some interference with radio communications from satellites.
‘NASA and NOAA track sunspots in order to determine, and predict, the progress of the solar cycle — and ultimately, solar activity. Currently, scientists are paying close attention to the sunspot number as it’s key to determining the dates of solar minimum, which is the official start of Solar Cycle 25.
‘This new sunspot activity could be a sign that the Sun is possibly revving up to the new cycle and has passed through minimum.
‘However, it takes at least six months of solar observations and sunspot-counting after a minimum to know when it’s occurred.
‘Because that minimum is defined by the lowest number of sunspots in a cycle, scientists need to see the numbers consistently rising before they can determine when exactly they were at the bottom.
‘That means solar minimum is an instance only recognizable in hindsight: It could take six to 12 months after the fact to confirm when minimum has actually passed.’
The most famous Coronal Mass Ejection occurred in 1859 and caused a geomagnetic storm called the ‘Carrington Event’ as a pulse of charged particles bombarded Earth’s magnetosphere.
If this happened today, the results would be devastating.
In April last year, Nasa wrote: ‘The Carrington Event compressed the Earth’s magnetic field so violently that currents were created in telegraph wires so great that many wires sparked and gave telegraph operators shocks.
‘Were a Carrington-class event to impact the Earth today, speculation holds that damage might occur to global power grids and electronics on a scale never yet experienced.’
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