New solar cycle begins with a blast

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Washington, Jan 15: Scientists have said that the new solar cycle, called “Cycle 24", has already produced two solar blasts since it started on January 4. A solar spot on the sun"s surface, whose detection had first prompted the scientists to announce the arrival of the new solar cycle, produced these blasts.

A sunspot is an area of highly organised magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun. Observed by SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory), this particular solar spot was fairly small and hardly noticeable on the sun"s northern hemisphere. But when it showed a reversed magnetic polarity compared to sunspots of previous years, it convinced scientists that a new solar cycle had begun.

SOHO was not only the first in spotting this sunspot, it also observed two associated "EIT waves", blast waves that spread out from active regions on the Sun like ripples from a pebble dropped into water.

Lasting an average of 11.1 years, a solar cycle is also considered a harbinger of solar storms, which can bring down power grids, disrupt critical communications, and threaten astronauts with harmful radiation.

Solar Cycle 24 is expected to build gradually, with the number of sunspots and solar storms reaching a maximum by 2011 or 2012, although intense solar activity can occur at any time.

ANI

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