Washington Post – After a lengthy slumber, the sun is waking up, crackling with activity and hurling blistering pulses of energy into space. Solar physicists are expecting an uptick in stormy “space weather,” with implications that affect us here on Earth.
As soon as Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that a solar outburst could generate northern lights or aurora as far south as Oregon to Pennsylvania.
This flare-up coincides with the onset of “Solar Cycle 25,” an 11-year window within which storminess on the surface of the sun peaks and “solar storms” become routine.
The sun is nearly 93 million miles away, but disturbances on its surface can have serious effects far and wide across the solar system. Solar scientists and forecasters of space weather track “sunspots,” or cool, discolored regions that make appearances on the solar disk. The number of sunspots present at any given time fluctuates over the course of 11 years, each span representing one cycle.
Sunspots are often the source of solar flares, which can cause high-frequency radio blackouts and interrupt communications on Earth. At the same time, sunspots may also release coronal mass ejections, which are sneeze-like eruptions of magnetic energy, that can bring about occasionally epic displays of the northern lights.