Sun’s 2013 solar storm peak expected to hit century low

700_38c08ec2263f8dac515e9087771db0c8The sun’s peak of solar activity this year will likely be the quietest seen in at least 100 years, say NASA scientists who watch Earth’s closest star daily.

Sunspot numbers are low, researchers said, even as the sun reaches the peak of its 11-year activity cycle. Also, radio waves that are known to indicate high solar activity have been very subdued.

“It’s likely to be the lowest solar maximum, as measured by sunspot ‘number,’ in more than a century,” wrote Joe Gurman, a project scientist for NASA’s sun-observing mission Stereo, or Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory. The current sun weather cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24.

Quiet as the sun may be, scientists still have a vested interest in watching it. A rogue flare could damage electrical grids or knock out communications satellites, as has happened many times before.

Though solar science is still in its infancy, it has advanced greatly even from the time solar activity knocked out much of Quebec’s electrical grid in 1989, Gurman pointed out.

“The interconnectedness of power grids has grown tremendously since the Hydro Québec issue,” he wrote.

“Compared to the frequency of widespread power outages due to trees falling on above-ground power lines during snowstorms or hurricane-force winds from storms such as the recent [Hurricane] Sandy, it’s a very low order of probability event.”

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