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Increased solar activity: 2024 will be the year of the northern lights

Increased solar activity: 2024 will be the year of the northern lights

As of: January 2, 2024 at 12:34 p.m

Every eleven years, the sun reaches its peak activity. The solar wind then paints colored lights in the sky. In 2024 they could appear increasingly in Germany.

Normally, the northern lights can only be seen in the far north – around the North Pole – or deep south in Antarctica. The northern lights rarely appear in the night sky over Germany. But last year the northern lights were spotted more frequently in Germany. Sometimes they reached southern Germany. This may happen again or become more common in 2024.

to rise Solar activity With lots of sunspots

The reason for this is the already high solar activity, which may reach a maximum next year. This is not unusual: such a peak occurs every eleven years, during which activity decreases sharply and then slowly increases again.

With the right technology, such as the solar probe on board SOHO, this can be made visible: Number and size of sunspots On its surface they grow with increasing solar activity. That's why we talk about the sunspot cycle.

From sunspots to solar storms

Sunspots identify places that are about 1,500 degrees cooler than the rest of the Sun's surface and therefore shine less brightly. They arise where there are very strong magnetic fields Matter from inside the sun in huge arcs Forcing her out into the aura.

If magnetic short-circuits occur in these arcs of matter, solar matter is ejected into space as a coronal mass ejection – and a solar flare occurs. Such a solar storm also sends solar particles to Earth at high speed. The cloud of charged particles is coming One to two days after the explosion With us.

This is how the solar wind paints the northern lights in the sky

Solar particles have a very special property: the Sun's interior is neither solid, liquid, nor gaseous, but a plasma. This aggregation state occurs when atoms split into positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons by exposure to high heat.

Particles in the solar wind are therefore electrically charged. In this way, it can shift the Earth's magnetic field toward the poles. When high-energy solar particles hit our atmosphere, they cause its atoms to glow. And in very typical colors: oxygen atoms emit mainly green or red light, while nitrogen atoms emit blue-green or violet light.

Where the solar wind hits us hard

In fact, the northern lights are the best sign of how effectively the Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere are protecting us from energetic solar particles. But they can certainly cause damage to modern electronics: solar storms frequently disrupt satellites and thus affect navigation systems, the Internet or communications devices. Radio and power supplies can also be disrupted by strong solar winds.

It is impossible to accurately predict when the sunspot cycle will peak, as the cycles differ greatly from each other. Only the quantity and size of sunspots appearing every day allows us to draw conclusions. A maximum of 150 sunspots can appear per day.

Space climate Reports indicate that in 2023 there will not be a single day without sunspots, as was the case in 2012 and 2013. However, at minimum activity five years ago, there were no sunspots on three-quarters of the days. “The Sun is clearly approaching its maximum activity,” explains Nathalie Krivova of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen.

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Opportunities to see the northern lights in Germany

Normally, the northern lights can only be seen north of the Arctic Circle, beyond the 66th parallel. Even large parts of Norway and Sweden lie south of them. But the stronger the solar activity, the more likely the northern lights will appear.

In extreme cases, the northern lights can reach a latitude of up to 20 degrees from the equator. Just as they did in 1859, when the northern lights appeared over Hawaii and the Caribbean. There lies Germanybetween latitudes 47 and 55, is much cheaper.