TechBreakthrough in sunspot prediction by Indian research team

Breakthrough in sunspot prediction by Indian research team

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9:22 AM EST, November 30, 2023

Indian scientists have made a significant discovery about the Sun, unearthing a method to predict the peak of solar activity.

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Education and Scientific Research in Kolkata have shared fascinating insight into their latest discovery. It revolves around previously unknown correlations between the Sun's magnetic field and its activity cycle, including the phenomena of sunspot formation. The research team has consequently developed a model to more precisely predict solar activity than existing methods.

The team highlighted that the Sun is primarily a plasma composition, its robust motion generating the star's magnetic field which further facilitates the formation of infamous sunspots. These sunspots are almost the same size as Earth and represent areas with exceptionally potent magnetic fields, about 10,000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field.

During phases of heightened solar activity, significant disturbances in its magnetic field are often observed. These disturbances trigger solar storms and coronal mass ejections. The ensuing radiation can potentially cause damage to satellites, power networks, and other equipment.

Historical observations of the Sun, dating back to the 17th century, have shown that roughly every 11 years, the number of sunspots increases, leading to a noticeable uptick in solar activity. However, pinpointing the moment when this activity reaches its zenith has always posed a substantial challenge.

Unveiling novel aspects of the Sun

The research team explains that the plasma motions responsible for generating the magnetic field, known as the solar dynamo, encompass two crucial aspects. The first is manifested in the form of sunspots, and the second relates to alterations in the dipole field, much like the Earth's field, extending from the North Pole to the South Pole. Changes in the sunspots mark a direct impact on the intensity of the dipole field, which also exhibits fluctuations. About every 11 years, the poles interchange positions.

In 1935, Max Waldmeier, a Swiss astronomer, observed that the quicker the sunspot cycle changes, the greater its intensity. Therefore, stronger cycles take less time to reach their maximum output. This correlation is often utilized to predict the sunspot cycle's strength based on early growth phase observations.

Nonetheless, the Indian research team discovered another relationship. They found that the rate of decline in the dipole field strength mirrors the rate of increase in sunspot activity. This observation was made by analyzing data collected over various decades by numerous Earth-based observatories.

This breakthrough links both elements of the Sun's magnetic field and substantiates the theory that the evolution of sunspots is an inherent part of the solar dynamo's mechanism, rather than a byproduct of the processes taking place in it. As per this model, the peak of solar activity is projected to occur, within a margin of error not exceeding September, at the onset of 2024.

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