The number of spots on the Sun has reached a 20-year high: we are threatened by dangerous heat and powerful solar storms - ForumDaily
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The number of spots on the Sun has reached a 20-year high: we are threatened by dangerous heat and powerful solar storms

The number of observed sunspots in June was the highest in almost 21 years. This is one of the clearest signs that we are rapidly approaching the Sun's chaotic peak, known as solar maximum. It will be much more extreme than originally thought. Writes about it Live Science.

Photo: IStock

According to the Center for Space Weather Prediction, 163 sunspots appeared on the surface of the Sun in June. The last time such a number covered the Star was in September 2002, when 187 sunspots were observed.

Scientists pay particular attention to the number of these sunspots because it is the easiest way to track changes in solar activity over a roughly 11-year solar cycle.

Dark spots are caused by the Sun's magnetic field breaking through its surface, and this happens as the field gets entangled as the solar cycle progresses, before eventually flipping over completely to kick-start the next cycle.

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At the beginning of each solar cycle, when the star is at its most quiescent, known as solar minimum, there are almost no sunspots. But as the star approaches solar maximum, the number of dark spots increases dramatically until it is covered with them and they begin to spew out more and more frequent and powerful solar flares.

The current solar cycle (the 25th recorded by scientists) officially began in December 2019. At the time, scientists predicted that the cycle would peak in 2025 and be similar in intensity to the previous one, which was lean compared to other recorded cycles. However, as Solar Cycle 25 has progressed, there have been signs that it is much more active than anticipated, and experts now believe that the upcoming maximum could come sooner and be much more powerful than the previous one.

The course of the solar cycle

During the past 28 months, the number of observed sunspots has been higher than predicted from the original solar cycle forecasts. For example, the predicted number for June was just 77, less than half of the actual number of sunspots. And in December 2022, the number of sunspots reached an eight-year high.

The number of sunspots in June was more than in any other month during the last solar maximum, which suggests that the upcoming peak will be much more active. The current trend is more in line with cycle 23, which peaked between 2000 and 2001. During this solar maximum, the largest number of sunspots was 244 recorded in July 2000.

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On June 29 of this year, the sunspot, which appeared just 48 hours earlier, quickly swelled up and turned into a monster that was about 10 times wider than the Earth. This made it one of the largest sunspots of Solar Cycle 25, and on July 2, this giant dark spot triggered an X-class solar flare (the most powerful flare the Sun can produce). It crashed directly into the Earth and caused a radio outage in the western US and the eastern Pacific. This is another clear sign that solar maximum is rapidly approaching and will be more extreme than expected.

But sunspots are not the only indication that the upcoming high will be stronger than the previous one. In March, the thermosphere - the second highest layer of Earth's atmosphere - reached its highest temperature in nearly 20 years after absorbing excess energy from solar storms that hit our planet in early 2023.

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