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Space season – will the next weather be stormy or fair?

The big news about the Sun is that there is no big news. We are happy that astronomers like to say that they will live next to “Boring star”

But the inhabitants (if any) of the planets orbiting the nearby star Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light years away, are less fortunate. In April, astronomers announced that a huge flare had erupted from the surface in 2019 for seven seconds as the batteries of telescopes on Earth and in space watching the little stars increased 14,000 times the ultraviolet radiation in one. in The most intense flames have ever seen in our galaxy.

This is more than an area subject to severe sunburn. “Humans on this planet are going to have a bad time,” said Meredith McGregor, a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado who leads observations around the world.

Space weather at this level could sterilize habitable planets and could make some bad news for this search for life outside the solar system. Even mild space weather can disrupt existing evolved and colonized organisms. The sunspots and solar storms, which have formed and faded in 11 years, spew energy that could harm spacecraft, astronauts and communications systems.

A new cycle of storms will begin today, and astrophysicists will divide how they move or threaten. The sun may be setting a record for the number of sunspots and violent storms, or it may be sliding to its lowest point, like the Maunder Minimum, from 1645 to 1715, with hardly any blackouts. The moment it became known in Europe as a slightly icy age.

“We live in the atmosphere of the stars,” said Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colo, often saying, “As a civilization, we hold our stars. It is accepted. “

Here, 93 million miles from the nearest star – the one we call the Sun – we exist, and most of them thrive on the edge of almost incomprehensible intensity and complexity.

The Sun is a medium sized star, a ball of extremely hot ionized gas, one million miles in diameter. The large inside spins faster on the outside and the outer spins faster at the equator than at the poles. The result is a nest of magnetic fields, which have been shown to be sunspots and worse when they damage the surface.

Every second, the thermonuclear reaction at the center of the Sun burns 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 million tons of helium. Four million tons of it disappeared into pure energy, a mortgage payment for all life on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system. Energy emerged from the Sun as it continued to rise through colder, less dense gas layers, and eventually 100,000 years later from the photosphere, or surface, at just 5,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

The sun is amazingly consistent in these mortgage payments. A few years ago, experiments in Italy confirmed that our stars did not appear to have changed in energy production for at least the past 100,000 years, the time it took for that energy to evacuate from the Sun’s core. The researchers were able to calculate the amount of energy the Sun produces in real time by measuring the atomic particles called neutrinos generated by nuclear reactions within the Sun, escaping in seconds and reaching Earth in just eight minutes. They found this energy to match the output created 100,000 years ago and only detect it now.

Action doesn’t stop at the sun’s surface. The friendly yellow photosphere boils like oatmeal and is full of dark magnetic storms. (Infamous sunspot) that explodes, swirls and strikes with electric particles and radiation. The corona, which is made up of a thin superhot beam of electric gas, and can only be seen during a solar eclipse millions of miles from the luminescent surface.

Sometimes things go wrong, albeit at a lower level than the eruption seen in Proxima Centauri, when the magnetic field produced by the whirling stuff causes electric gases to form on the sun’s surface, causing it to warp and entangle. together They finally snap and reconnect into loops, releasing massive amounts of radiation and charged particles – an explosive solar flare that is millions more powerful than hydrogen bombs.

These flares sometimes blow all parts of the Sun’s outer layer into space in an event known as the corona-mass ejection. The mother of all known solar storms occurred on September 1, 1859, when the sun set against the Earth. Sparks flew from telegraph systems in Europe and North America, causing fires. The aurora that night stretched as far south as Hawaii and Cuba and was so bright that people could read newspapers in their lights.

In 2012, another corona ejection almost never missed the world. An earlier study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a direct strike from the storm could cause about $ 2 trillion in damage, shutting down electrical systems and at least temporarily blinding the satellites. Forget about trying to use the internet or your local ATM. Reports say that many people cannot flush toilets without electricity to use their pumps. “I think that as a civilization we have become a mistake,” said Dr. Macintosh.

The storm is likely to occur during sunsets at the peak of the Sun’s mysterious 11-year cycle.

Recently, the cycle of sunspots has weakened. In the last round, 101 sun spots were found in 2014, the year of highest activity. Which is below the historical average of 160 to 240.

Last year, a panel of scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is estimated that the coming cycles will be similarly anemic, with a peak in 2025 of about 115 points on the sun.

But Dr. McIntosh and colleagues made completely different predictions, with more than 200 peaks, they said, that 11-year solar cycles based on analyzes of the 140-year sun measurements reject the 22-year Hale cycle that it is. It is named after George Ellery Hale, who discovered during that time the Sun’s magnetic field reverses polarity and then reverses.

Each cycle ends or begins when two magnetic stripes migrate from opposite the high latitudes of the Sun meet each other at the equator and destroy each other. On average, each phase of the cycle takes 11 years, but can vary.

Dr. Macintosh and team found that the longer the cycle runs, the weaker the next one, and vice versa. The current cycle, which is the 24th day since records began, shows signs of an end after a little more than 10 years, slightly shorter than the average, meaning the next cycle should be strong.

“The Sunspot Cycle 25 may have been on par with the top few since recording began,” said Dr. Macintosh at the end of April. On Thursday, he and his crew were still waiting for the “ignition” to begin. “It’s very close,” he wrote in an email.

What is at stake? In addition to the health of our planet’s infrastructure, it is proud that astronomers feel that they understand the complex and intense processes that take place behind the sun’s relatively calm face.

“I think the problem with the Sun is that we are too close to the Sun and there is too much information about the Sun,” said Dr McIntosh. He calls it a model divider: “Your model will eventually fail. It’s part of the reason why weather forecasting is so difficult, right? As our observations are very detailed But you know it’s hard to get it right for sure. “

Tony Phillips, Site Supervisor Astronomer Spaceweather.com agrees in an email. “In my experience, when people really understand something, they can easily explain it,” he said. “It’s impressive to me that hardly anyone in the solar cycle prediction business can explain the dynamo model. That they love in a way that ordinary people can “understand.”

The situation reminded him of the proverbial blind man who tried to formulate the elephant theory, with one of them focusing only on feeling the trunk of the animal.

Scott and Bob stood beside him shouting. ‘Hey, you don’t care for most elephants,’ ”he said.“ In other words, the solar cycle is much more than expected by conventional models. So, according to Scott, they are doomed to make the whole picture go wrong. ”

Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College who spent his life observing the corona during a solar eclipse, said he did not store much data in that forecast. In the e-mail, he recounts the final meeting featuring “hilarious speeches”.

Conversation, as he recalled, it said: “Next round will be stronger than average, next round will be weaker than average, next round will be stronger than average or weaker than average, next round will not be stronger. Above average or below average “

He added, “So my plan is to wait and see.”

In addition to the potential dangers, it is important to understand how the sunspot cycle works “from a truly human point of view, if you want to understand the stars,” says Dr. Macintosh. Most of the Earth’s magnetic field is why we might have life on Earth. ”

He pointed out that Mars doesn’t have much atmosphere or magnetic fields. “If your Earth doesn’t have a magnetic field, you can have all the atmospheres you want,” he said. It goes out with a heartbeat. “

Indeed, astrophysicists suspect this fate on Mars, which was once warmer and wetter than it is now.

Proxima Centauri, a small star known as the M dwarf, has at least two exoplanets, one of which is the size of Earth and close enough to the star to live without radiation. Rager offers glimmer of hope for life in the neighborhood.

“Recent work has shown that ultraviolet light may be critical to catalyzing life by converting complex molecules into amino acids and eventually becoming unicellular organisms,” she said. Being so small and cool, they don’t produce that much UV radiation except when they flicker. Perhaps there is an interesting point where a star shines enough to light up life. But not so much that it destroyed immediately! ”

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