Sun records highest number of sunspots in 9 years; Solar storm disaster in the making?

Fears of solar storms increase after the Sun records the highest number of sunspots in nine years! Is the Earth going to suffer a massive disaster? Find out.

| Updated on: Feb 03 2023, 17:44 IST
NASA: From Solar Winds, Solar Flares to CME, check how solar phenomena impact Earth
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1/5 The harrowing thing is that it will not just be China that would be affected by such a devastating solar storm. (NASA)
Solar flare
2/5 Solar Flares: Solar flares are photon flares emitted from the Sun which travel from the flare site. They are rated on the basis of their intensity with the highest being an X-rated solar flare. It can cause power and radio blackouts and are responsible for the stunning phenomenon known to us as the Northern Lights or Auroras. (NASA/SDO)
Solar flare
3/5 Coronal Mass Ejections (CME): CMEs are massive plasma clouds carrying photons that are ejected from the Sun. CME occurs during the solar cycle and is at peak in the middle of the cycle. (NASA)
Solar flare
4/5 Solar Winds: Solar winds are high speed winds coming from holes in the Sun called Coronal holes. These holes can form anywhere on the surface of the Sun. If these solar winds prevail near the solar equator, they can cause impact on Earth, according to NASA. (Pixabay)
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5/5 Solar Energetic Particles: Solar energetic particles are emitted from the Sun during Coronal Mass Ejections. These are charged particles; hence they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and the Earth and if they pass the magnetic fields near Earth, they have an impact. (NASA)
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The Sun records a nine-year high for sunspots. Know how it may impact solar storm strikes against Earth. (Pixabay)

Yesterday, February 2, the Earth again suffered a solar storm attack. This time, luckily, it was a low intensity solar storm and its impact on the Earth was marginal. In the skies of the northern hemisphere in higher latitudes, aurora displays were visible in the late hours. However, many astronomers believe this is just the beginning of a long lasting solar storm onslaught on the Earth. And there is a reason for this belief. January 2023 witnessed the highest sunspots on the Sun, creating a new nine year record. But with 2 years still to go for the Sun to reach the peak of the current solar cycle, what does this mean for the Earth in the coming days? Sadly, the outlook is not good.

The development was reported by which stated, “In a continued sign of strength for Solar Cycle 25, sunspot counts just hit a 9-year high…The monthly sunspot number of 144 in January 2023 was only percentage points away from topping the previous solar cycle, Solar Cycle 24, which peaked in Feb. 2014 with a monthly value of 146”. It should be noted that the last time the sunspot numbers were this high, it was very near to the peak of the solar cycle 24.

High sunspot count creates a solar storm scare for Earth

The number of sunspots on the Sun is directly related to the intensity of the solar peak. The previous solar cycle was considered a mild one because the difference between the solar maximum and solar minimum (the period of solar cycle when the activity of the Sun is at the lowest) was very low.

But with the new data on the number of sunspots in January 2023, it becomes apparent that this time, the Earth is in for an erratic solar maximum, and it can result in some violent solar storms in coming months.

Solar storms are caused by coronal mass ejections (CME) particles released whenever a solar eruption occurs. These eruptions, also known as solar flares, occur at the center of sunspots, which are the regions of unstable magnetic fields on the surface of the Sun. So, higher the number of sunspots, higher the chances of solar storms.

While it cannot be assessed how severe the peak of this solar cycle will be, a particularly violent phase was observed in 1859, when the Earth suffered its worst recorded solar storm in history. It is today known as the Carrington event. Such a solar storm today can cause terrifying damage. It can disrupt GPS, hamper mobile networks and the internet and even cause a massive power outage by corrupting the power grids. No electronic device on Earth will be safe from such a storm.

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First Published Date: 03 Feb, 17:35 IST