What is the Solar Maximum?

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What is the Solar Maximum? Blog Image


A new visualization from the European Space Agency (ESA) shows activity ramping up on the sun's surface as it approaches solar maximum this year.

About Solar Maximum

  • The sun is a huge ball of electrically-charged hot gas. This charged gas moves, generating a powerful magnetic field. 
  • The sun goes through a natural solar cycle approximately every 11 years.
  • Over the course of 11 years, the magnetic field between the Sun’s northern and southern hemispheres winds up until it becomes so dense that the hemispheres flip. The north hemisphere becomes the south, and vice versa.
  • This flipping point marks the Solar Maximum. It occurs approximately halfway through the solar cycle.
  • It’s associated with a greater number of sunspots observable on the surface of the sun.
  • By contrast, the Solar Minimum, which marks the beginning and end of each Solar Cycle, has fewer sunspots.
  • As the sun approaches the solar maximum, we see more brilliant explosions, dark sunspots, loops of plasma, and swirls of super-hot gas.
  • Impacts:
    • This increased solar activity can cause extreme space weather events, including solar flares and eruptions. 
    • It can also disrupt radio communications and the power grid and have serious health consequences for astronauts.

What are Sunspots?

  • Sunspots are dark, planet-size regions of strong magnetic fields on the surface of the sun.
  • Sunspots form when concentrations of magnetic field from deep within the sun well up to the surface.
  • They consist of a central darker region, known as the umbra, and a surrounding region, known as the penumbra. 
  • They can spawn eruptive disturbances such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). 
  • These regions of the sun appear darker because they are cooler than their surroundings. 
  • The frequency and intensity of sunspots visible on the surface indicate the level of solar activity during the 11-year solar cycle, that is driven by the sun's magnetic field. 

Q1) What are Solar Flares?

These are magnetic plasma ejected at great speed from the solar surface. They occur during the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots (‘dark’ regions on the Sun that are cooler than the surrounding photosphere), and can last for a few minutes or hours. These flares can be divided into various categories based on their brightness in X-ray wavelengths There are five different classes of solar flares: A, B, C, M, and X. Each class is at least ten times more potent than the one before it.

Source: See the sun's surface rage as solar maximum approaches (photo)