A time-lapse video shows the sun getting progressively more chaotic over the past half-decade, generating solar storms that can cause problems on Earth.
As solar activity ramps up, more sunspots and eruptions have been appearing on the sun’s surface, sending solar winds into the universe that can hit our planet at 1. 8 million mph.
Here’s what this looks like:
In the time-lapse video, solar flares appear as an intense brightening of a region on the sun. Meanwhile, the sun’s surface appears gradually less homogenous, indicating more magnetic activity at the surface.
How solar flares can lead to radio blackouts
During certain space weather events, such as solar flares, solar energetic particles travel down geomagnetic field lines in the polar regions.
“They increase the density of ionized gas, which in turn affects the propagation of radio waves and can result in radio blackouts,” according to NASA.
There were no clear reported effects of the blackout, which lasted more than 10 minutes, though an expert previously told Insider such events can interfere with air traffic.
“Space weather can ground flights,” Mathew Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading said, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration “won’t allow flights if they don’t have both radio and satellite communications.”
We’re already feeling the effect of the sun’s increased activity
The sun’s increased turmoil has already been felt on Earth. Every 11 years or so, the sun becomes “convectively unstable,” meaning its magnetic fields become so unstable that the magnetic north and south poles abruptly flip, throwing our star’s polarity out of whack, Mathew Owens, a professor of space physics at the University of Reading, previously told Insider.
That causes the magnetic fields that course the surface of the sun to go haywire. That havoc makes it much more likely for charged plasma particles to escape the sun, creating solar winds that can crash into Earth at speeds up to 1. 8 million mph.
As well as radio blackouts, these winds can create beautiful spectacles on Earth. Last March, a powerful solar storm triggered auroras over the Northern hemisphere that were seen as far down as New Mexico.
We’re also seeing more rare solar phenomena at the surface of the sun, like this rare solar tornado 14 times the size of the Earth spotted in March.
Still, scientists aren’t only interested in the sun for its potential to create fascinating vistas on Earth. Charged particles can create problems for pretty much anything that relies on electricity.
In computers, a rogue-charged particle can flip. This usually goes unnoticed but in rare circumstances, it can have substantial consequences, like the time 4,096 extra votes mysteriously appeared in a local election in Belgium.
A huge solar storm can also cause power grids to fail, which is more than an inconvenience at a time when so much of our day-to-day life depends on being online.
Experts are fairly confident that we should be safe this time around, as they predict this solar maximum should be fairly mild.
Still, scientists have been sounding the alarm that we may not be ready if a huge solar event like the one that happen in the 1800s — that shorted all the telegraph wires and shocked operators around the world — were to happen today.
The last big solar maxima happened in the 90s and 2000s when the world was less dependent on electronics to run our infrastructure.