The Sun’s New Hobby

January 29, 2016
Sun's Magnetic Crochet
NASA

Everyone needs a hobby. On March 29, we saw the Sun’s newest hobby. It knit a “Magnetic Crochet” high in our sky.

A giant lacey network of rippling electric currents covered the Earth’s upper atmosphere. None of these currents touched the globe’s surface or threatened our electrical grid. Scientists name this rare and rather beautiful effect a “Magnetic Crochet”.

The Sun knit a magnetic crochet. Source: NASA

On March 29, a large solar flare thrown off by a sunspot caused a surge of electrical currents to dance through the skies 37 to 62 miles above the surface. Unlike most geomagnetic storms, which cause auroras, this occurred as the Sun flared. Most geomagnetic storms arrive a day after the flare, giving electrical grids, satellites and other utilities time to prepare. Thank goodness, unlike large geomagnetic storms, these magnetic crochets are harmless.

All of this is occurring during a period of increased solar activity. The sun usually goes through an 11-year cycle. At the beginning of the cycle, it is very quiet and there are almost no sunspots. Gradually it becomes more active, increasing in both sunspots and overall radiation. When the sunspot number reaches a peak, it is followed by a 3-year flurry of storms. Then it quiets until the end of the cycle and the beginning of a new one.

The Sun goes through 11-year cycles of high and low activity. Source: NASA

This cycle has been very quiet. It seemed to have peaked back in late 2011 and then settled down. This worried some scientists since it meant the entire 11-year cycle had not radiated as much energy as previous recent cycles. Then, in January, the sun woke up. By late February, it reached a new higher peak than before. It currently has 132 sunspots swirling and sputtering on its surface.

In February, this solar cycle had a new peak of high radiation and activity. Source: NASA

No wonder it has enough energy to take up a new hobby and decorate the Earth with a Magnetic Crochet! Now if would just give us a nice warm summer.

About This Blog

Mike Steinberg is Senior Vice President for Special Initiatives at AccuWeather Inc in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the National Weather Association and the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.