Fading sunspots and weakening magnetic activity near the poles are signs the sun may be less active in the coming years. Three separate studies point to the sun heading into a more dormant period, with activity during the next 11-year sunspot cycle greatly reduced or even eliminated.
"The solar cycle may be going into a hiatus," Frank Hill, associate director of the National Solar Observatory's Solar Synoptic Network, said in a June 14 news briefing. today (June 14). "This is highly unusual and unexpected. But the fact that three completely different views of the sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation."
According to Live Science:
Sunspots are temporary patches on the surface of the sun that are caused by intense magnetic activity. These structures sometimes erupt into energetic solar storms that send streams of charged particles into space.
Since powerful charged particles from solar storms can occasionally wreak havoc on Earth's magnetic field by knocking out power grids or disrupting satellites in orbit, a calmer solar cycle could have its advantages.
Astronomers study mysterious sunspots because their number and frequency act as indicators of the sun's activity, which ebbs and flows in an 11-year cycle. Typically, a cycle takes roughly 5.5 years to move from a solar minimum, when there are few sunspots, to the solar maximum, during which sunspot activity is amplified.
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