2012 ~ 2014
(Solar Cycle 24)
Just as earth has cycles which we call seasons, the sun's energy
output also changes on
a roughly 11-year basis. We call these changes the solar cycle.
We are now six years into a new solar maximum period. During the last solar minimum, there were few
magnetic storms on the sun, sunspots were rare, and geomagnetic disturbances here on earth
were nearly nonexistent. Aurora watchers had to travel to the polar regions to see
the Northern Lights. However, change is here. We are now in solar maximum.
In late 2007, a new sunspot appeared on the sun, signaling the end
of our quiet period.
This sunspot had a reversed polarity magnetic field. According to NASA's solar
physicist David Hathaway: "New solar cycles always begin with a high-latitude, reversed polarity sunspot,"
explains Hathaway. "'Reversed polarity' " means a sunspot with opposite magnetic polarity
compared to sunspots from the previous solar cycle. 'High-latitude' refers to the sun's grid of latitude
and longitude. Old cycle spots congregate near the sun's equator. New cycle spots appear higher, around
25 or 30 degrees latitude." Full article may be found here. As we approach the midway point of Solar
Cycle 24, the sun is preparing to reverse its magnetic field. Scroll down for an article explaining this event.
As far back as 2006, solar scientists began predicting that our next
solar maximum would
be one of the strongest yet. "This week researchers announced that a storm is coming--the
most intense solar maximum in fifty years. The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati
of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). 'The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50%
stronger than the previous one,' she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity
second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958." (From Science @ NASA.) Our last solar
minimum, however, was longer and deeper than usual. Could this mean a quieter solar max period?
So far, solar activity seems to be much lower than expected. Recent projections by
some NASA scientists say that maximum solar activity will peak in 2013. Others speculate that we
may be in for a double peak solar maximum.
So what can happen during a strong solar maximum? Sunspots increase
and harbor more energy.
At times, this energy is released in the form of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A CME
consists of plasma from the sun itself -- electrons and protons -- with an accompanying
magnetic field. When these charged particles strike the earth's magnetosphere, they travel
down the magnetic field lines to the poles, colliding with atoms in our atmosphere along the way. These
collisions can create a display of the aurora borealis. The energized ejected material can also strike satellites,
causing drag and damage to electronic circuitry. GPS units and telecommunications may be disrupted.
In a severe geomagnetic storm, astronauts and high-altitude jet passengers can receive
higher than normal doses of radiation. Power grids on earth may fail as a result of the massive
influx of energy. The aurora borealis can sometimes be seen as far south as Mexico.
For an excellent article on the possible effects of a severe geomagnetic storm, see
this page on Wikipedia.
In recent years, the belief that the sun may flare and cause an electromagnetic
pulse (EMP) on earth has been popularized in the media. Is this possible? No. According to NASA's
C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "[Killer flares] would not happen.
The sun cannot produce flares (or CMEs) with enough energy to do this. It is a physical impossibility.
It would take the entire energy of the sun, like a supernova. The sun will not become a supernova."
As for solar cycle 24, thus far it has proven to be disappointing.
Solar activity has remained very low, with
few large flares. "2013 is only days away, and according to most forecasters, Solar Max should be approaching as well.
But is it? Barely-increasing sunspot counts and anemic solar activity suggest an interesting possibility:
Perhaps Solar Max is already here. This plot of measured vs. predicted sunspot numbers illustrates
"The blue curve traces monthly sunspot numbers measured since 2000. The red curve is the prediction of the NOAA-led Solar
Cycle Prediction Panel. So far, Solar Cycle 24 is underperforming even compared to the panel's low expectations.
There is still a strong chance that Cycle 24 will rebound and peak in 2013 as expected. It might
even be a double-peaked cycle like the cycle before it. As 2013 nears only one thing is certain:
we don't know what will happen."
Source: Space Weather
Update: Some news sources reported on 2 August 2013 that Earth dodged
a near-miss by a Carrington class
solar flare. This report is inaccurate. According to Space Weather, "There was no Carrington-class
solar storm two weeks ago. On the contrary, solar activity was low throughout the month of July. The
report is erroneous. The possibility of such a storm is, however, worth thinking about:
A modern Carrington event would cause significant damage to our high-tech society."
From the NASA article: "Just before dawn the next day, skies all over planet Earth erupted in red, green, and purple
auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. Indeed, stunning auroras pulsated even at
near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.
"Even more disconcerting, telegraph systems worldwide went haywire. Spark discharges shocked telegraph operators and set
the telegraph paper on fire. Even when telegraphers disconnected the batteries powering the lines, aurora-induced
electric currents in the wires still allowed messages to be transmitted.
"What Carrington saw was a white-light solar flare—a magnetic
explosion on the sun," explains David Hathaway,
solar physics team lead at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama."
Update: "August 5, 2013: Something big is about to happen on
the sun. According to measurements from
NASA-supported observatories, the sun's vast magnetic field is about to flip.
"It looks like we're no more than 3 to 4 months away from a
complete field reversal," says solar physicist
Todd Hoeksema of Stanford University. "This change will have ripple effects throughout the solar system."
"The sun's magnetic field changes polarity approximately every 11 years. It happens at the peak of each
solar cycle as the sun's inner magnetic dynamo re-organizes itself. The coming reversal will mark the
midpoint of Solar Cycle 24. Half of 'Solar Max' will be behind us, with half yet to come. "
Source: Science At NASA
Another interesting article about the Sun's magnetic field reversal
found at National Geographic.
For incoming storm warnings or to find out if you can see the aurora in your area, see:
HAM has great information, graphs, video and live feed
that is updated
every two minutes.
My own aurora borealis site also lists sources for space weather updates and solar storm warning notifications.
Tools are included to let you calculate whether the aurora is currently visible in your location. I have also
included links to aurora web cams on this page. Please note that the aurora is not visible in arctic
skies from May through late August due to the length of daylight hours.
Current space weather conditions:
I maintain and update this site solely because of my lifelong love of science,
learning, and the desire to share with you the information you came here to find.
I financially support other organizations and groups that share my passions
and ideals. If you would care to contribute to this cause, please consider a
small donation. You have our gratitude and thanks.
JF and JB, thank you very much for your generous support.
Three years in the life of our Star, the Sun, captured by NASA’s Solar
Dynamics Observatory (SDO)
in this beautiful video, courtesy of EarthSky.org.
Were you born during a period of solar minimum or solar maximum? Find out with this nifty tool from SpaceWeather.com.
You can also use it to correlate important Earth history events like stock
market crashes, the Mets winning,
and other anomalies with the 11-year solar cycle. Dates go back to the 1700s.
For entertainment purposes only!
Perhaps in the next solar maximum period, we will see glories such
Aurora panorama photo, above, courtesy of and copyrighted by LeRoy
Photo above was taken by author March 2010, Chena Hot Springs Alaska
Photo below courtesy of Andy Keen, and The Aurora Hunters© on Facebook.
Would you like to see and photograph the aurora live?
Please visit: To learn more about the aurora, to find out whether it is visible in your
location, or A few more of our 2012 aurora photos may be seen here. Alaska
-- Our photos and journeys in the Great Land
Andy Keen's site, The Aurora Hunters©
If you found the information on this page useful, please consider
a small donation to defray the costs of site maintenance and hosting. Thank you.
to see it live via web camera, please visit our other site, The Aurora Borealis Page.
Our Alaskan aurora photos 2010
To learn more about the aurora, to find out whether it is visible in your
A few more of our 2012 aurora photos may be seen here.
Alaska -- Our photos and journeys in the Great Land
(Above) ISS032-E-007896 (15 July 2012) --- The Expedition 32 crew
onboard the International Space Station, flying at an altitude of
approximately 240 miles, recorded a series of images of Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights, on July 15 (2012).
NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, flight engineer, recorded the series of images from the Tranquility node.
The Canadarm2 robot arm is in the foreground.
This page updated 10 January 2014.
Following the Sun since 2000. Copyright 2008-2014.
Background music: "The Cloud" -- soundtrack "Star Trek - The Motion Picture"
Disclaimer: The information contained on this page has been verified by the author.
I dedicate this page to my dad and mom, who gifted to me the love of life, space, science, and
most of all - curiosity and the never-ending thirst to satisfy it. Thanks. I love you.
You are free to quote or link to this site. However, it is
my preference that it not be used to attempt to prove political or spiritual points. Scientific knowledge
belongs to us all and has no national or political borders. Thank you.
Author: Sue Evans