Sun's solar maximum reaching peak activity early

The solar maximum is part of the sun’s 11-year cycle, in which its north and south poles flip

Solar maximum is the regular period of greatest solar activity in the sun's 11-year solar cycle. NASA
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The sun’s activity, which has knock-on effects on Earth, is increasing in volatility as scientists calculate it is peaking sooner than expected.

Expectations for peak solar activity – the solar maximum – have been brought forward to mid to late 2024 from previous forecasts of July 2025.

The solar maximum is part of the sun’s 11-year cycle, in which its north and south poles flip. With it comes increased solar activity that throws flares across space.

The effects on Earth are minimal but there can be some risks to communication, power supplies and satellites.

Solar maximum is the period of greatest solar activity in the 11-year solar cycle during which large numbers of sunspots appear and the solar output grows. Large solar storms often begin during the solar maximum.

The solar maximum is about halfway through the 11-year cycle. The solar minimum is usually when one cycle ends and the next starts.

Sunspots – areas of particularly strong magnetic forces that appear darker than their surroundings – thrown out during the solar maximum can be bigger than Earth.

Solar flares also release enormous amounts of radiation during the maximum

The current cycle, Solar Cycle 25, has been more active than expected, scientists at the US Space Weather Prediction Centre said.

The Sun is the Earth’s closest star. The increased solar activity sends charged particles into space.

When they reach the Earth’s magnetic field, they produce incredible polar light shows, known as the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, and the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights.

Solar flares can disrupt satellite operations and interfere with radio communications. Planes flying near the poles may also experience communication problems.

Power grids can be damaged by geomagnetic storms started by solar activity.

Flares send harmful radiation that can be dangerous to both astronauts and a spacecraft's electronics.

Updated: July 18, 2023, 5:18 PM