Explaining the solar minimum of 2019 and how it affects planet Earth

Oct 2, 2019, 2:00 PM

With the return of the fall season for 2019 in the northern hemisphere, it is time to look closer at our nearest star, the sun.

With the days and nights at near equal lengths, what is happening on the “surface” of the sun and how does that affect us here on Earth?

Most people know that the sun goes through an 11 year cycle of high sunspot and solar activity, as well as a period of low solar activity.

We are now at the deepest part of what we call solar minimum.

For the last 200 days or so the sun has exhibited no sunspots at all.

The end of solar cycle 24 will help to bring about a whole new series of magnetically charged sunspots as we begin solar cycle 25.

Sunspots are cooler regions in the photosphere of the sun and have deep magnetic fields surrounding them.

On the opposite side of the solar cycle is solar maximum, a time when many powerful sunspot groups can flip magnetic fields and help produce some amazing solar storms, in the form of coronal mass ejections.

These powerful solar storms can be bad for us here on Earth, as the powerful energy from flares and protons can play havoc on our modern electronic world.

As mentioned above, we are moving towards the deep and maybe deepest solar minimum in a century.

What does this mean for Earth and the planets in our solar system?

While there are virtually no solar flares and related activity, the sun does produce some large holes in the outer atmosphere, the corona.

Streams of high energy particles stream out towards the Earth in the solar wind, producing bright auroral displays.

At or near the solar minimum, an increase in cosmic rays will shower the Earth and the planets as the protective bubble or solar wind is diminished.

There are many theories as to how that increase in cosmic rays can affect life on Earth, if at all.

The modern tracking of solar cycles began around 1755 with solar cycle one. We should see the beginning of solar cycle 25 possibly before the end of 2019 and will peak once again around 2024.

Some say that cycle 25 may be not as strong as the last cycle, but no one really knows for sure.

For now, there is a great opportunity for observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres to look for some great auroral displays.

It is important to emphasize the damage that large solar storms can and will do to both our electronic-based world and power grids.

We should be working on solutions to prepare for that event.

On a final note, the great solar storm of Sept. 1, 1859, known as the Carrington event, hit our planet with incredible energy and knocked out the “Victorian Internet”, in the form of the telegraph.

If that were to happen today, we would be in for a sad series of events!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday morning at 3 a.m.

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Explaining the solar minimum of 2019 and how it affects planet Earth