The prediction that the sun's next 11-year activity phase or "Cycle 25" will be one of the weakest in centuries and is likely to decrease until 2100 could mean no solar disaster for now, but scientists said the scenario could be different in 2024.
After Cycle 25 or about another 11 years later, another solar maximum is expected to happen, and this time a real disaster could hit the Earth and people should be ready, scientists said.
Preparedness is necessary because of the tendency to be complacent, according to scientists, especially if the predicted solar disaster will not materialize. "A solar storm no-show could deepen complacency even further," according to a NewScientist editorial.
"If we sail through the next maximum unscathed, that complacency can only deepen. By 2024 chances are we will be even more dependent on vulnerable technology. Nobody wants a "solar Katrina" but a couple of moderately damaging storms will probably act as a wake-up call, reminding us that the threat is all too real," the editorial said.
To better predict the path and effect of solar storms, researchers at the NASA Space Weather Laboratory of Goddard Space Flight Research Center have has used an existing technology called "ensemble forecasting" which is also used to predict hurricanes.
To be fully implemented in three years, the ensemble forecasting will allow NASA researchers to produce as many as 100 computerized forecasts at one time using computer modeling to calculate multiple possible space weather conditions. From this analysis, alerts can be created alerts for solar storms that could affect astronauts or NASA spacecraft, the agency said.
"Ensemble forecasting will provide a distribution of arrival times, which will improve the reliability of forecasts," he said. "This is important. Society is relying more so than ever on space. Communications, navigation, electrical-power generation, all are susceptible to space weather," said Michael Hesse, chief of Goddard's Space Weather Laboratory and director of the Center's Heliophysics science division.
Due to the increased solar flare and storm activity in recent months, NASA has been preparing for its possible effect, including efforts to improve its forecasting of solar weather. The sun emitted two significant corona mass ejections (CMEs) or billion-ton clouds of solar plasma launched by sun explosions, one on Aug. 4 and one in mid January, the latter of which caused some airlines to divert flights.
The most powerful solar flare so far this year erupted earlier this week from the same region that caused last week's CME.
To contact the editor, e-mail: