NASA forecasts new solar cycle could be strongest ever – ‘Pattern becomes obvious’

Solar telescope captures sunspot on the Sun

If true, this confirms a long-held theory about solar activity cycles. Dr Scott McIntosh a US National Center for Atmospheric Research solar physicist, said: “Scientists have struggled to predict both the length and the strength of sunspot cycles because we lack a fundamental understanding of the mechanism that drives the cycle.

“If our forecast proves correct, we will have evidence that our framework for understanding the Sun’s internal magnetic machine is on the right path.”

Once you identify the terminators in the historical records, the pattern becomes obvious

Dr Scott McIntosh

The Sun’s activity levels are known to vary quite considerably, and its activity cycles are bound up with its magnetic field.

Although it remains a mystery what is responsible for these cycles, every 11 years, the Sun’s poles swap places.

The Sun’s magnetic field are known to control the solar minimum.

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Once the poles switch, the magnetic field strengthens and solar activity rises to a solar maximum before subsiding for the next polar switch.

This solar minima has been historically tracked through observation of solar activity and calculating after the fact once one has occurred.

The most recent solar minimum is consequently understood to have occurred in December 2019.

We have now entered the 25th solar cycle since records began, and are headed into a solar maximum.

According to US-based space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is expected to be a quiet maximum, with a sunspot peak of around 115 sunspots in July 2025.

However, Dr McIntosh and his colleagues believe differently, following observations of the Sun on a 22-year cycle.

This has long been considered the full solar cycle, when the poles return to their starting positions, and these researchers noticed something interesting.

Over the course of about 20 years or so, flickers of extreme ultraviolet light called coronal bright points appear to move from the poles towards the equator, meeting in the middle.

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The movement of these bright points across the mid-latitudes seems to coincide with sunspot activity.

These bright points are linked with bands of magnetic fields wrapped around the Sun, propagating from the poles to the equator approximately every 11 years.

Because they have opposite polarity, when they meet in the middle, they cancel each other out – dubbed by researchers as a “terminator”.

Such terminator events mark the end of a solar magnetic cycle, and the start of the next.

The researchers are now confident their interpretation of the Sun’s activity offers a new toolset for understanding how the Sun works.

Dr McIntosh said: ”Once you identify the terminators in the historical records, the pattern becomes obvious.

“A weak Sunspot Cycle 25, as the community is predicting, would be a complete departure from everything that the data has shown us up to this point.”

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