The Solar Cycle

Solar Cycle 25 has begun. The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel announced solar minimum occurred in December 2019, marking the transition into a new solar cycle. In a press event, experts from the panel, NASA, and NOAA discussed the analysis and Solar Cycle 25 prediction, and how the rise to the next solar maximum and subsequent upswing in space weather will impact our lives and technology on Earth.

A new solar cycle comes roughly every 11 years. Over the course of each cycle, the star transitions from relatively calm to active and stormy, and then quiet again; at its peak, the Sun’s magnetic poles flip. Now that the star has passed solar minimum, scientists expect the Sun will grow increasingly active in the months and years to come. Understanding the Sun’s behavior is an important part of life in our solar system. The Sun’s outbursts—including eruptions known as solar flares and coronal mass ejections—can disturb the satellites and communications signals traveling around Earth, or one day, Artemis astronauts exploring distant worlds. Scientists study the solar cycle so we can better predict solar activity.

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Media Events

  • Solar Cycle 25 Is Here. NASA, NOAA Scientists Explain What This Means
    2020.09.15
    Solar Cycle 25 has begun. The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel announced solar minimum occurred in December 2019, marking the transition into a new solar cycle. In a press event, experts from the panel, NASA, and NOAA discussed the analysis and Solar Cycle 25 prediction, and how the rise to the next solar maximum and subsequent upswing in space weather will impact our lives and technology on Earth. A new solar cycle comes roughly every 11 years. Over the course of each cycle, the star transitions from relatively calm to active and stormy, and then quiet again; at its peak, the Sun’s magnetic poles flip. Now that the star has passed solar minimum, scientists expect the Sun will grow increasingly active in the months and years to come. Understanding the Sun’s behavior is an important part of life in our solar system. The Sun’s outbursts—including eruptions known as solar flares and coronal mass ejections—can disturb the satellites and communications signals traveling around Earth, or one day, Artemis astronauts exploring distant worlds. Scientists study the solar cycle so we can better predict solar activity. Click here for the NOAA press kit.
    Participants: • Lisa Upton, Co-chair, Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel; Solar Physicist, Space Systems Research Corporation • Doug Biesecker, Solar Physicist, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center; Co-chair, Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel • Elsayed Talaat, Director, Office of Projects, Planning and Analysis; NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service • Lika Guhathakurta, Heliophysicist, Heliophysics Division, NASA Headquarters • Jake Bleacher, Chief Exploration Scientist, NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
  • NASA/NOAA Interview Opportunity: Space Weather live shots
    2020.09.11
    Weather in space can affect our technology here on Earth, find out how NOAA and NASA are keeping us safe Experts available next week to discuss predictions for upcoming solar cycle Did you know that there are seasons in space? Similar to the Earth’s four seasons, the Sun experiences different phases as part of its 11-year cycle. Just as the Northern Hemisphere on Earth is about to go into the fall season, the Sun is also gearing up to begin a new phase of increased solar activity. Weather in space comes in the form of electrically charged particles and radiation from our Sun. Space weather doesn’t physically impact humans on the ground, but it can affect the sensitive electronics on our satellites, as well as our power grids and communications and navigation systems. Radiation can be dangerous for our astronauts too — especially those working outside the International Space Station and for future explorers to the Moon. As we rely more heavily on electronics in our everyday life, monitoring solar activity and space weather extremes has never been more important. Find out how scientists forecast weather on the Sun, what we’re learning about our star, and what it means for how we protect our technology.

Data Visualizations

  • Coronal Holes at Solar Minumum and Solar Maximum
    2020.09.15
    Coronal holes are large dark regions in the solar atmosphere that appear in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and X-ray wavelength imagery. These holes are created by large regions of the solar magnetic field that have a single polarity (unipolar) and extend far out into the solar system. These are sometimes called 'open' magnetic field lines since they don't connect back to the Sun. The regions appear dark because they have a lower density of the hot coronal plasma. The open magnetic field lines make it easy for the charged plasma to stream away from the Sun, forming the fast component (about 700 kilometers per second) of the solar wind. Coronal holes can form at any time during the 11-year solar cycle but are more prominent near solar minimum when persistent coronal holes can form near the Sun's polar regions. Coronal holes can grow and migrate to lower solar latitudes.
  • The Solar Polar Magnetic Field
    2020.02.04
    From our single vantage point of Earth, our view of the Sun is never complete. While the far-side of the Sun eventually rotates into view, coverage of the Sun's polar regions is never satisfactory as perspective effects either completely block our view or create a distorted view. We must often resort to computer modeling of these solar polar regions. This visualization presents the Potential Field Source Surface (PFSS) magnetic field model based on solar observations covering the years 2017-2019. One version also presents the 'hole' in our measurements of the solar polar region. The region oscillates in size over the course of the year due to the changing perspective created by the tilt of Earth's orbital plane with the solar equator. In this region, researchers must resort to approximations to build a more complete view of the solar magnetic field. Why is the solar magnetic field in this region important? Because the combined with the outgoing flow of the solar wind, the magnetic field lines from the polar regions curve up, and then back down to near the Sun's equatorial plane, which is still fairly close to the orbital plane of Earth and other planets in our solar system. This gives the Sun's polar magnetic field a significant influence on the space weather impacting Earth and crewed and uncrewed assets around the solar system.
  • Ten Years of Solar Dynamics Observatory
    2020.06.24
    Here we present a continuous run of data from the AIA instrument 171 angstrom filter aboard Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Compiling one photo every hour, the movie condenses a decade of the Sun (June 2, 2010-June 1, 2020) into an almost 49 minute time lapse, where every second corresponds to 30 hours of SDO data. There's a number of phenomema observed:
    • Earth eclipses: usually occur in February-March and August-September each year.
    • Lunar transits: We see the lunar disk block out the Sun
    • Instrument repointings for calibration purposes
    Naturally this movie includes a number of events that have been explored previously: Interesting physical features:
    • In October and November 2014, a large helmet streamer is visible extremely high above the solar limb. You can still observe it above the solar limb as it moves across the far-side of the Sun.
    At various times the AIA instrument failed to collect data resulting in some large data gaps appearing in this visualization as black frames.
    • April 1, 2015: about 8 hours
    • May 13, 2015: about 6 hours
    • December 26, 2015: about 27 hours
    • August 2, 2016: about 8 days
    • April 30, 2017: about a day
    • June 28, 2018: about 18 hours
  • Solar Energetic Particles
    2020.08.14
    The Sun goes through phases of strong activity, during which eruptions can occur. Such eruptions can have multiple components, including X rays, coronal mass ejection plasma, and solar energetic particles – bursts or events of fast-moving particles. These events can occur suddenly and have the potential to rapidly change the radiation environment of wide swaths of the inner solar system where they may create hazardous conditions. Not only are such conditions dangerous for humans in space, but the intense ionizing radiation can also affect the interior of spacecraft, including sensitive electronics. Solar energetic particles can reach all regions of near-Earth space, including the lunar surface, with the exception of low-altitude and low-latitude Earth orbit, where the Earth’s magnetic field is strong enough to form a protective barrier.
  • Magnetic Reconnection Throughout the Solar System
    2020.03.12
    Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important processes in the space. Reconnection occurs when crossed magnetic field lines snap, explosively flinging away nearby particles at high speeds. The following animations illustrate this magnetic explosion on the Sun, near black holes, around Earth.

Produced Videos

  • How To Track The Sun's Cycle
    2020.09.15
    A new solar cycle comes roughly every 11 years. Over the course of each cycle, the Sun transitions from relatively calm to active and stormy, and then quiet again; at its peak, the Sun’s magnetic poles flip. Now that the star has passed solar minimum, scientists expect the Sun will grow increasingly active in the months and years to come.

    Understanding the Sun’s behavior is an important part of life in our solar system. The Sun’s outbursts—including eruptions known as solar flares and coronal mass ejections—can disturb the satellites and communications signals traveling around Earth, or one day, Artemis astronauts exploring distant worlds. Scientists study the solar cycle so we can better predict solar activity. As of 2020, the Sun has begun to shake off the sleep of minimum, which occurred in December 2019, and Solar Cycle 25 is underway. Scientists use several indicators to track solar cycle progress.

  • The Solar Cycle As Seen From Space
    2020.09.17
    VIDEO IN ENGLISH

    Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

    The Sun is stirring from its latest slumber. As sunspots and flares, signs of a new solar cycle, bubble from the Sun’s surface, scientists are anticipating a flurry of solar activity over the next few years. Roughly every 11 years, at the height of this cycle, the Sun’s magnetic poles flip—on Earth, that’d be like the North and South Poles’ swapping places every decade—and the Sun transitions from sluggish to active and stormy. At its quietest, the Sun is at solar minimum; during solar maximum, the Sun blazes with bright flares and solar eruptions. In this video, view the Sun's disk from our space telescopes as it transitions from minimum to maximum in the solar cycle.

    Music credit: "Observance" by Andrew Michael Britton [PRS], David Stephen Goldsmith [PRS] from Universal Production Music

  • A Decade of Sun
    2020.06.24
    As of June 2020, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory — SDO — has now been watching the Sun non-stop for over a full decade. From its orbit in space around the Earth, SDO has gathered 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun, amassing 20,000,000 gigabytes of data over the past ten years. This information has enabled countless new discoveries about the workings of our closest star and how it influences the solar system. With a triad of instruments, SDO captures an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument alone captures images every 12 seconds at 10 different wavelengths of light. This 10-year time lapse showcases photos taken at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers, which is an extreme ultraviolet wavelength that shows the Sun’s outermost atmospheric layer  the corona. Compiling one photo every hour, the movie condenses a decade of the Sun into 61 minutes. The video shows the rise and fall in activity that occurs as part of the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and notable events, like transiting planets and eruptions. The custom music, titled “Solar Observer,” was composed by musician Lars Leonhard. While SDO has kept an unblinking eye pointed towards the Sun, there have been a few moments it missed. The dark frames in the video are caused by Earth or the Moon eclipsing SDO as they pass between the spacecraft and the Sun. A longer blackout in 2016 was caused by a temporary issue with the AIA instrument that was successfully resolved after a week. The images where the Sun is off-center were observed when SDO was calibrating its instruments. SDO and other NASA missions will continue to watch our Sun in the years to come, providing further insights about our place in space and information to keep our astronauts and assets safe. • Learn more about SDOTen Things We’ve Learned About the Sun From NASA’s SDO This Decade
  • SDO Celebrates its Tenth Launch Anniversary
    2020.02.11
    In February 2020, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory — SDO — is celebrating its tenth year in space. Over the past decade the spacecraft has kept a constant eye on the Sun, studying how the Sun creates solar activity and drives space weather — the dynamic conditions in space that impact the entire solar system, including Earth. Since its launch on February 11, 2010, SDO has collected millions of scientific images of our nearest star, giving scientists new insights into its workings. SDO’s measurements of the Sun — from the interior to the atmosphere, magnetic field, and energy output — have greatly contributed to our understanding of our closest star. SDO’s images have also become iconic — if you’ve ever seen a close up of activity on the Sun, it was likely from an SDO image.

NASA Missions

  • Heliophysics Sentinels 2020
    2020.09.15
    There have been few changes since the 2018 Heliophysics Fleet. Van Allen Probes and SORCE have been decommissioned, while Solar Orbiter, ICON and SET have been added. As of spring 2020, here's a tour of the NASA Heliophysics fleet from the near-Earth satellites out to the Voyagers beyond the heliopause.
  • NASA's Heliophysics Fleet
    2018.06.01
    Heliophysics encompasses science that improves our un­derstanding of fundamental physical processes throughout the solar system, and enables us to understand how the Sun, as the major driver of the energy throughout the solar system, impacts our technological society. The scope of heliophysics is vast, spanning from the Sun’s interior to Earth’s upper atmosphere, throughout interplanetary space, to the edges of the heliosphere, where the solar wind interacts with the local interstellar medium. Heliophysics incorporates studies of the interconnected elements in a single system that produces dynamic space weather and that evolves in response to solar, planetary, and interstellar conditions.