The Sun is at it again. Even though we’re currently going into a solar minimum where the celestial body is generally a little calmer, a number of “holes” have opened up on its surface, ejecting a solar wind that has been showering the Earth for the last few days.
This all might sound quite dramatic, but there is no need to rush out to the supermarket and stockpile bottles of water as it is actually pretty normal, especially as we’re now entering a solar minimum.
Rather confusingly, considering this current event, the solar minimum is defined by a dialling down in solar activity for a period of around 11 years. This obviously doesn’t mean that solar flares and sunspots don’t happen during this time, but in general, they tend to be smaller and less intense.
Coronal holes, however, are not determined by solar minimums or maximums and occur at any time or location on the Sun. And that is what is going on now. They look like dark patches on the Sun – hence their name – but are actually the result of cooler and less dense regions of plasma.
Importantly, these patches also have an open magnetic field. This means that while one side of the field line is attached to the Sun, the other is dragged out into space, rather than looping back on itself. This, therefore, allows the solar wind, which is made up of charged particles, to escape and come streaming towards our planet.
Despite the plethora of headlines shouting warnings and predicting chaos, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has already released their assessment stating a G1 level solar storm, which is the lowest on the scale. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any impact at all – the aurora is expected to be particularly strong right about now and there may be a few problems with some satellites and a couple of power grids – but nothing of particular note.
So if you’re currently in the higher latitudes, you might want to look up at night! You could get treated to an amazing show of green, pink, and purple ribbons dancing across the night sky as we bathe in the Sun’s solar winds.