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.

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

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.

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.