After a long time, I looked up at the night sky today. The stars glimmering in the pitch dark sky. The brightly lit moon, effortlessly floating in the sky. I see the craters on it, and I remember the times I’ve tried looking for rabbit in those patterns and no matter how hard I looked, I never could find that dreaded mammal! But the moon was quiet majestic, even without the giant rabbit.
Oh, I wish I could go up there, look at those craters up close, but I think I’m gonna have to postpone that trip, it’s solar maximum after all! The entire solar system must be flooded with radiation. And i guess, the moon’s surface must be scorched by now too. It’s a good thing earth has its own magnetic field, the ‘magnetosphere’. If it didn’t, Im sure I would be getting barbecued right now, getting cooked in the sun’s radiation! But even with that in mind, this is an exciting time! There are sun spots popping and solar flares blowing out of the sun’s surface everywhere. It’s quiet a chaotic! But the chaos has a tinge of excitement to it.
But what exactly is the solar maximum?? They way we experience seasons on our planet, the sun undergoes seasonal changes too. This cycle of seasons are periodic changes in the energy output given by the sun, known as the solar cycle. We are currently four years into the solar maximum period. The period in which the sun is most active. It began in 2007 when, the scientists picked up a sun spot on the surface of the sun with reversed polarity. Such strange sunspots mark the beginning of the next solar cycle. The scientists immediately started working on the data to try and predict what will be the intensity of this particular solar maximum. To everyone’s surprise, the scientists at National Center for Atmospheric research (NCAR) announced: “the ‘storm’ is coming, and this time’s solar maximum will be 30-50% stronger than the previous one”. Everyone was quite shocked as the solar minimum we had before was quite dull and prolonged. Everyone expected this time’s solar maximum to be similar. But of course, the sun surprised us with the data that indicated that this year’s solar maximum may be as intense at the historic solar max of 1958.
But what exactly happens in a solar maximum? Well in short, everything goes berserk! The number of sunspots increase and they harbour more energy than usual. Solar flares are shot out quite often. And occasionally, the sun releases a massive amount of energy in a wave called a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME in short. This wave has a large portion of the sun’s own plasma in it! Super-heated electrons and protons and gigantic amounts of radiation accompanied by a magnetic field. These are potentially lethal!(even sound lethal!) Normally, We are protected by earth’s own magnetic field, ‘the magnetosphere’. But when the massive jolt of charged particles in the CME hit the magnetosphere, it’s punched hard enough to pull it away from the earth, exposing the surface facing the sun to large amounts of radiation. The charged particles are pushed toward the poles, and on the way there, they collide with the particles in the atmosphere creating magnificent auroras which can be seen as far south as mexico!
This massive burst of energy can irrevocably damage many our communication sattelites and the power grid. In extreme case scenarios, even people who are flying in planes at high altitudes and astronauts in space can receive high doses of radiation which can lead to chromosomal damage and cancer.
Well, in the next few months, I think we might get to experience a full blown CME. And the data is clearly asking us to brace ourselves, but in the meantime, I’m just going to sit back, and enjoy the show!
Footage of solar flares –
Information about geomagnetic storms –
More information about current solar max –