SPACE (KXAN) – Last weekend, highly active sections of the sun turned towards Earth, increasing the risk for solar flares and solar storms to affect communications on Earth. That risk will continue this week, according to a statement from the National Solar Observatory.
Video of the sun, taken by the NSO, showed two highly active areas of the sun rotating towards the Earth facing side on January 10th. Named NOAA 13169 and NOAA 13170, the regions were previously on the backside of the sun.
The National Science Foundation’s Global Oscillation Network Group, or GONG, says that these two spots have a high potential for producing “violent solar events”, like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Images of the sun taken today show that the spots are now directly facing Earth.
Space weather occurring on the sun can have an impact on us at home. Solar flares are responsible for beautiful aurorae like the Aurora Borealis, but can also knock out electrical power grids and telecommunications.
What are solar flares and coronal mass ejections?
According to NASA, solar flares are powerful burst of energy on the sun. They occur in sunspots when magnetic energy is released. They appear as bright areas on the sun. A solar flare can last mere minutes or take place over several hours.
According to NASA, we observe solar flare using x-rays and optical light.
Coronal mass ejections are when the atmosphere of the sun is disrupted. Made of a magnetic field, this atmosphere can release violent bubbles of gas and magnetic fields when a sunspot passes beneath it.
Both occur because of sunspots, which NASA said are darkened spots on the sun. These spots are cooler than the rest of the sun around it. They form in areas where the magnetic field is particularly strong.
The Solar Cycle and Solar Flares
Every 11-years, the sun completes a solar cycle and it is wild. Essentially, the north and south poles flip. In the middle of this cycle, called the Solar Maximum, sunspots increase in number.
Our current solar cycle began in 2019 and will peak in 2025. That year, scientists with NASA and NOAA expect 115 sunspots a month.
The more spots, the higher likelihood of solar flares and CMEs.
The NSO’s main purpose is advance the knowledge of the sun. Not only do they operate several solar observation facilities, but also provide research opportunities for people who want to learn more about the sun.