Better sunspot forecasts on the way
The weather: cloudy with a chance of global IT disruption
With a solar maximum expected next year, predicting sunspot activity is going to be a hot topic. An international team of scientists has announced that it can identify emerging sunspots earlier than is currently possible.
The work, published in Science, is based on detecting acoustic waves that provide a “signature” of an emerging sunspot. The anomalies can be detected as deep as 65,000 km within the sun.
This means the sunspot may be detectable two days before it emerges and becomes visible. Given the apocalyptic predictions made for next year’s solar maximum – a period in which sunspot activity peaks – better predictions may be important for the world’s IT and telecoms industries.
The research team, led by Stathis Ilonidis of Stanford University, used data from the NASA / European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Observing the way acoustic waves travel within the sun, the researchers found that magnetic fields along the path of the waves would change their travel time.
Regions where acoustic waves move more quickly were associated with sunspots that emerged a day or two later.
While solar observation could get better, NASA’s STEREO-A spacecraft has provided our first look at a solar storm all the way from the Sun to Earth. It’s taken three years to analyze the data collected by STEREO-A, but NASA scientists hope that the ability to track a CME – coronal mass ejection – long after it becomes too dim for optical telescopes could also improve our space weather forecasting.
“The ability to track a cloud continuously from the Sun to Earth is a big improvement,” says Alysha Reinhard of the NOAA’s Space Weather Center.
NASA has posted a video here. ®
Sun might be spotless
But it's still capable of tossing a few seriously large solar flares out instead of a shitload of little ones.
Other than that, 2 days' forecasting in the world isn't going to help much if a large CME starts forming on the other side of the sun.
FWIW the STEREO birds are fairly heftily armoured against CMEs but most comms satellites aren't. That may not help much if we get a 1856-level direct hit - you'll be left cursing large electricity-distribution infrastructure which doesn't have enough spare transformers to cope with such events.
(Very Large grid distribution transformers take 2-3 years to build. There are less than 10,000 of them in service worldwide and only a few dozen spares. A big hit is likely to take out a few hundred of them. Some of the very largest ones are numbered in tens with only a couple of spares and they're even more vulnerable to CME effects. This has been raised to every UK Prime Minister in the last 20 years and not acted on.)
The sun is dead on one side
I too am a radio amateur. This solar max is a bust. Two days ago there were zero sunspots. Today we're up to 56. It typically would be over a hundred in this part of a cycle.
I wouldn't be worried
I am an amateur radio op. The general concensus of this solar cycle is "nothing to see here, please move along". It is absolutely abysmal with the numbers barely higher than they've been for the past 3 years and activity on the HF frequencies remaining low. Considering we're nearly at the maximum you should be able to talk to someone thousands of miles away on a wet piece of string by now.