European academics have found a new way to predict how strong the sun’s powerful solar storms can be.
They hope their research will help scientists and engineers better plan satellite launches and space missions, as well as predict the amount of radiation to which aircraft will be exposed.
Although humans are shielded from much of the sun’s magnetic energy by Earth’s atmosphere, ‘space weather’ (the release of magnetic fields, radiation, particles and matter from the sun) can have serious implications for technology.
In 2015, for example, planes disappeared from radar in Sweden due to a large solar flare. And earlier this year, dozens of Elon Musk star link the satellites were lost when a solar storm prevented them from reaching their intended orbits.
This failure is believed to have cost more than $50 million.
The sun periodically releases magnetic energy in the form of powerful flares and plasma ejections. Light from these solar flares can reach Earth as early as eight minutes after they occur.
Immediately after a flare, the sun expels giant billion-ton bubbles of magnetic plasma that can reach Earth in a matter of days if their orbit is favorable.
In addition to shocking technology, this affects the Northern Lights, also known as the Northern Lights.
This solar activity tends to follow an 11-year solar cycle, which can be observed by tracking dark spots on the sun’s surface known as Sunspots. These patches are caused by magnetic energy rising from the sun’s interior to its surface.
Astronomers have been tracking sunspots for about four hundred years, giving scientists a huge data set to work with. In fact, sunspot tracking is the longest scientific experiment in history.
Researchers from universities in Russia, Austria, Croatia, and Belgium used this data to devise their new method for predicting the intensity of solar cycles.
During a typical solar cycle, the number of sunspots on the sun’s surface increases, before peaking during ‘solar maximum’ and then steadily decreasing again.
The team found that they could predict the amplitude of a cycle from data on the growth rate of sunspot activity during the first or “rising” phase of that cycle.
Co-author of the study and Master’s graduate from Skoltech University in Russia, Olga Sutyrina explained: ‘We can predict the amplitude of the cycle continuously during the development of the ascending phase of a solar cycle and update the prediction when the last value of the growth rate is greater than the previous one.’
This is only possible thanks to the rich data set available to scientists, added study co-author and director of the World Data Center at the Royal Observatory of Belgium, Frédéric Clette.
Considering the two hemispheres of the sun separately also improved the team’s predictions. That’s because it allows researchers to capture “the asymmetric and out-of-phase behavior” of the evolution of the solar magnetic field at its two poles, said Astric Veronig, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University of Graz in Austria. Astrid Veronig.
This new predictive method, published in astronomy and astrophysicsit will help us “prepare for an extreme space weather event,” added co-author and Skoltech PhD student Shantanu Jain.
“With the increasing reliance on technology in the 21st century, an extreme space weather event can disrupt our daily lives,” he said. “However, effective and accurate space weather prediction techniques can help us prevent such scenarios.”