Solar Cycle 25 Is Here. NASA, NOAA Scientists Explain What This Means
Released on September 15, 2020
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.
Sunspot number over the past five solar cycles. Scientists use sunspots to track solar cycle progress; the dark spots are associated with solar activity, often as the origins for giant explosions — such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections — which can spew light, energy, and solar material out into space.
Images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory highlight the appearance of the Sun at solar minimum (left, Dec. 2019) versus solar maximum (right, April 2014). These images are in the 171 wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light, which reveals the active regions on the Sun that are more common during solar maximum.
Visible light images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory highlight the appearance of the Sun at solar minimum (left, Dec. 2019) versus solar maximum (right, July 2014). During solar minimum, the Sun is often spotless. Sunspots are associated with solar activity, and are used to track solar cycle progress.
Scientists use the unique magnetic orientation of sunspots to determine which cycle they belong to — the old or the new. This SILSO graph shows counts of Cycle 24 and Cycle 25 sunspots from 2018-2020. The dominance of new Cycle 25 sunspots is one indication of the transition between the two cycles. Most sunspots belonged to the last solar cycle until September 2019; the dominance of Cycle 25 sunspots occurred in November 2019.
B-roll of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. The Space Weather Prediction Center, or SWPC, is the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings, and alerts.
Illustration of NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-On. The L-1 observatory launches in 2024, just before the Solar Cycle 25 predicted peak. The spacecraft will be equipped with instruments that sample the solar wind, provide imagery of coronal mass ejections, and monitor other extreme activity from the Sun in finer detail than before.
Images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory capture transient solar activity, including solar flares, prominences, and coronal mass ejections. Solar activity shapes space weather throughout the solar system, referring to the conditions in space that change much like weather we experience on Earth.
Images from NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft allow scientists to trace the anatomy of a December 2008 coronal mass ejection as it moves and evolves on its journey from the Sun to the Earth. The gauge shows solar wind density measured by NASA's WIND spacecraft near Earth.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/SwRI/STEREO/WIND
This visualization presents orbits of the current heliophysics satellites covering the space near Earth, through the solar system, and concluding with a view of the Voyagers, just outside the heliopause.
Graphic shows sunspot counts from the past six solar cycles plotted vertically instead of horizontally. High sunspot numbers are in red (right); low sunspot numbers are in blue (left). Various space weather impacts are listed, as they are associated with times of high and low solar activity.
Animated b-roll of NASA Gateway/Commercial Lunar Payload Services. The first two science investigations to be conducted from the Gateway in lunar orbit will study space weather and monitor the radiation environment there.