NOAA Confirms That the Peak of Solar Cycle 25 Will Arrive Soon, Earlier and Stronger Than Expected
A revised forecast updates the information provided in 2019 and anticipates that the peak of the current solar cycle would occur within the first 10 months of 2024. What consequences could it have on Earth?
American solar scientists have recently published a "revised prediction" for the solar cycle, which establishes that the next solar maximum will arrive earlier and will be more explosive than initially predicted, although remaining below the historical average.
The Space Climate Prediction Center (SWPC) of the National Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in the United States, has modified its initial prediction of the maximum peak of solar activity within the current cycle of the Sun, Solar Cycle 25, which officially began in early 2019.
According to a published statement, the "reviewed forecast" indicates that solar activity will increase more quickly and will reach a maximum of a higher level than that predicted by a panel of experts in December 2019.
The new prediction indicates that Solar Cycle 25 will reach its peak between January and October of next year, with a maximum number of sunspots between 137 and 173. This suggests a more intense activity than previously predicted, when it was indicated that the solar maximum would be in July 2025, with a maximum number of sunspots of 115.
Solar Cycle 24 was the weakest cycle in 100 years, with a maximum number of sunspots of 116 for the solar cycle, well below the average, which is 179.
Since the solar cycle was discovered more than 180 years ago, its progression has been monitored by counting the number of sunspots and groups of sunspots visible (through a solar telescope) on the solar surface every day. These daily measurements are compiled in a monthly average and are represented graphically as a function of time, as indicated by the black line in the upper panel of the lower figure.
The blue line is a softened version of the number of sunspots observed, obtained by applying an average of 13 months to each point of the black curve, according to the official statement. The lower panel of the figure shows a similar prediction made for the solar emission of radio waves in the 10.7 cm (2800 MHz) band.This is often referred to as radio flux F10.7 and is highly correlated with solar activity, which makes it another excellent way to follow the progression of the solar cycle.
Mark Miesch, the scientist who serves as the leader of the solar cycle at SWPC, said that the forecast for Cycle 25 had not been updated since its launch in 2019 and is no longer reliable enough for SWPC customers, many of whom plan their operations years in advance.
"We hope that our new experimental forecast will be much more accurate than the 2019 panel prediction and, unlike previous solar cycle predictions, it will be continuously updated monthly as new sunspot observations become available," the expert said. "It's a very significant change."
The signs of the change
We know that the Sun is in permanent change and revolution. Every 11 years a new solar cycle begins, which has moments of calmer activity and others of greater dynamism, which coincide with the so-called solar maximum. During this more intense period, the star king can generate extreme events in the form of solar storms or coronal mass ejections, with a great impact on the space climate that affects our planet.
Throughout this year, several signals revealed that the solar maximum would arrive earlier and would be more active than expected, according to an article published in Live Science. A peak of sunspots in the last 20 years, massive class X solar flares, extensive displays of auroras at lower latitudes or rising temperatures in the upper atmosphere were some of the indications of the overtaking of the solar maximum.
Already in 2020, a group of scientists led by Scott McIntosh, solar physicist and deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research of Colorado, in the United States, used historical data of sunspots and magnetic fields to predict in a study that the solar maximum would be more active and would arrive earlier than expected.
These could be its effects.
Among the possible consequences of a more intense solar maximum, specialists indicated that solar storms could cause radio blackouts, damage the electrical infrastructure and even destroy GPS and Internet satellites.
Radiation could also pose risks to airline and astronaut crews, and the change in activity could disorient animals that depend on the Earth's magnetic field to navigate, such as large whales and migratory birds.