Environment

New solar cycle begins, with impacts for aurora viewing


An international group of experts has declared we are nine months into a new solar cycle, meaning sunspot and solar flare activity should gradually increase.

The Sun goes through sunspot cycles lasting roughly 11 years. The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel last week declared the solar minimum – the lowest point in activity – had been definitively reached in December 2019.

That means the 25th solar cycle has now begun, and the next solar maximum is forecast for July 2025.

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Aurora viewers in the North should in theory see activity in the sky gradually increase as solar flare activity increases in the next five or so years.

However, this solar cycle is not expected to be particularly strong. The 12 experts on the panel have forecast a cycle only slightly stronger than the last one, which was described by space agency Nasa as “feeble.”

If the 25th solar cycle is quite weak, that could translate into fewer nights of truly jaw-dropping aurora over the NWT’s skies. However, it doesn’t rule out some spectacular nights.

“Just because it’s a below-average solar cycle, doesn’t mean there is no risk of extreme space weather,” said solar physicist Doug Biesecker, one of the panel’s co-chairs.

Scientists can also be wrong with their solar cycle predictions, which amount to a form of space weather-forecasting.

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In 2006, some experts predicted the 24th solar cycle would be one of the most intense since records began. Instead, it turned out to be one of the weakest of the past century.

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