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Solar Orbiter's Data Shows The Sun is at its Quietest, But Here’s Why Its a Good Thing

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

There’s no need to worry, the sun hasn’t stopped working. This was an expected change as each 11-year-long solar cycle goes through ebbs and flows; i.e. phases of high activity and phases of low activity. Gradually, the sunspot activity will ramp up in the coming years, as sun becomes more active.

In February 2020, the European Space Agency launched a Solar Orbiter spacecraft. The aim of this mission was to study the sun and the spacecraft has been doing that since June. Armed with around ten instruments, it has been collecting solar data. Now three of those instruments have their first tranche of data. And they show that the sun is in a “quiet” phase.

The source of all life on earth - and our central star - Sun’s surface is a constant state of nuclear fusion reaction. The activity causes what’s known as a sunspot. It follows an 11-year-old-cycle of such sunspot activity and currently, its virtually free of any sunspots.

There’s no need to worry, the sun hasn’t stopped working. This was an expected change as each 11-year-long solar cycle goes through ebbs and flows; i.e. phases of high activity and phases of low activity. Gradually, the sunspot activity will ramp up in the coming years, as sun becomes more active.

This phase of high activity may cause some bad ‘space weather’ in which huge amounts of material and energy is released from the sun. This causes ‘solar flares’ and mass coronal ejections. Solar flares, in turn, can cause communications and radio disruption on Earth during the peak activity.

ALSO READ: Sun Enters the New 'Solar Cycle 25' and Here’s What It Means

The sun’s activity is linked to its magnetic field. Solar Orbiter (SO) houses ‘Imperial’s’ instrument - the magnetometer (MAG)’. The MAG has released three months of data; measuring hundred million ‘vectors,’ (the direction and strength of magnetic field).

The SO has flown inside Venus’s orbit as well, where it collected the data closest to the sun so far. It will go even closer to the sun in the coming years.

As of now, the sun’s magnetic “equator” is lying flat to the actual equator. This allows SO to observe Northern magnetic fields very close to the equator. When the sun’s activity is high, the magnetic equator becomes warped. In such situations, the polarity of the magnetic field cannot be seen for long.

Additionally, the MAG observed waves from protons and electrons from the sun, causing ‘sunbeams’ near earth. According to Phys.org, the results are a testament to Space technology and human will, as getting a spacecraft up and running, and returning data- all within three months is commendable.


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