activity to peak in 2012
year 2012 might not be such a good one if you
happen to own a satellite or a lot of shares in
the electricity generating business. That's
because 2012 is being forecast as the peak of
the next sunspot cycle, and physicists are saying
it's going to be an active one.
Sunspots are regions of the solar surface that
are darker and cooler than their surroundings.
Caused by fluctuations in the intense magnetic
field that surrounds our closest star, sunspot
activity increases and decreases on an 11-year
cycle. Intense sunspot activity brings with
it solar storms. , events where charged particles
stream off the surface of the sun, with the potential
to wreak havoc with our planet's upper atmosphere.
During solar storms, satellites can be damaged,
power transmission can be disrupted and the skies
light up with auroras. There are also links
between sunspot activity and climate.
Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric
Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, have used
a new model of the sun's interior to refine predictions
of future sunspot activity. By using data
going back over a century, the scientists were
able to determine that the sun's magnetic field
has a memory of around 20 years. This model
was able to predict the past six cycles with around
97 percent accuracy, and has led to revised predictions
about the next cycle, number 24.
According to Mausimi Dikpati, one of the physicists
who gave a press conference, the next sunspot cycle will be between
30 and 50 percent stronger than the current cycle,
with a peak in activity in 2012. Armed with
a six year warning, mission planners at NASA,
satellite controllers and engineers in the power
industry ought to have ample time to take this
looming danger into account.