A new solar cycle has begun and will be affecting the weather in space and on Earth. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently explained what the Solar Cycle 25 means.
The beginning of a new cycle was marked by the solar minimum that occurred last year in December. Due to the Sun's variability, it takes several months to officially declare a new solar cycle.
To check the cycle progress, experts keep track of sunspots on the giant star. Sunspots have a reduced surface temperature and atmospheric pressure where strong magnetic forces create temporary dark spots.
Sunspots are also the source of explosions like solar flares which release charged particles into space. The same charged particles are responsible for the aurora lights in the north and south poles.
Solar scientist Lika Guhathakurta from NASA's Heliophysics Division explained that solar activity is constant and "changes form as the pendulum swings." Several federal agencies and departments are also working alongside the National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan to be prepared for changes in space weather. There may be certain weather hazards that may pose a threat to space equipment and missions during the Solar Cycle 25.
NASA's research teams continue to work on forecasting models while the NOAA continuously monitors space weather and provides predictions with satellite data. Space weather predictions will be crucial in planning upcoming mission trips such as the Artemis program, which will be sending astronauts to the Moon by 2024.
The space environment can be screened for dangers such as astronauts being exposed to space radiation. There will be two initial investigations to study space weather and monitoring radiation levels in the lunar orbit. Experts continue to develop predictive models so that space weather can be forecasted in a similar way Earth weather forecasts are conducted.
Understanding Space Weather
"There is no bad weather, just bad preparation," said Jake Bleacher from NASA. He continued saying that it is the agency's responsibility to prepare.
Part of space weather preparations is understanding solar cycles. The World Data Center for the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations keeps track of sunspots, which help predict the beginning of a new cycle.
The center keeps a detailed record of tiny sunspots that indicate "the onset and rise of the new cycle," said Frédéric Clette. "These are the diminutive heralds of future giant solar fireworks." Tracking the general trend for months is what helps the center "determine the tipping point between two cycles."
The Sun's activity may continue to increase until the next predicted maximum by 2025. The Solar Cycle 25 may be a below-average cycle, shared Doug Biesecker from NOAA, but could still result in a few dangers. Just because the new cycle may be below-average, he explained, it "doesn't mean there is no risk of extreme space weather."
Several developments include NOAA's Space Weather Follow-On L-1 observatory in 2024. Elsayed Talaat from NOAA shared that the agency is on its way to make the United States "a space weather-ready nation."
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