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The Solar Cycle

The Solar Cycle

Context:

Scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced their predictions about the new solar cycle, called Solar Cycle 25. According to scientists, the solar cycle has begun. Solar cycles have implications for life and technology on Earth as well as astronauts in space.

Solar cycle:

  • Electrically charged gases on Sun's surface generate areas of powerful magnetic forces, which are called magnetic fields.
  • The gases on the Sun’s surface are constantly moving, these magnetic fields can get stretched, twisted, and tangled creating motion on the surface, which is referred to as solar activity.
  • Solar activity varied with the stages of the solar cycle, which lasts an average period of 11 years.

Tracking of solar activity:

  • Scientists track a solar cycle by using sunspots. Sunspots are associated with the origins of giant explosions such as solar flares that can spew light, energy, and solar material into space.
  • Sunspots are the dark blotches on the Sun that are associated with solar activity.

Significance:

  • The tracking of solar activity is important because it can have effects on Earth. For example, when charged particles from coronal mass ejections reach areas near the Earth, they can trigger intense lightning in the skies (auroras).
  • When Coronal mass ejections are particularly strong, they can also interfere with the power grids, which can cause electricity shortages and power outages.
    • NASA notes that solar flares and coronal mass ejections are the most powerful explosions in our solar system.
  • Solar flares can have also a major effect on radio communications, GPS connectivity, power grids, and satellites.

Sunspots:

  • It is an area on the Sun that appears dark on the surface and is relatively cooler than the surrounding parts.
  • These spots are around 50,000 km in diameter, are the visible markers of the Sun’s magnetic field, which forms a blanket that protects the solar system from harmful cosmic radiation.
  • When a Sunspot reaches up to 50,000 km in diameter, it may release a huge amount of energy that can lead to solar flares.
  • The beginning of a solar cycle is characterized by only a few sunspots and is therefore referred to as a solar minimum.
  • Recently, scientists announced that the solar minimum for Solar Cycle 25 occurred in 2019. It took time for them to announce this because of the variability of the Sun.
  • Scientists predict a solar maximum (middle of the solar cycle) will be reached by 2025 and that this solar cycle will be as strong as the last solar cycle, which was a “below-average cycle” but not without risks.

Source: Indian Express