Are you ready to catch the auroras before they dim for the next decade? Quiz after the article!
Here’s a crazy GIF of the Sun at Solar Maximum from STEREO, for dramatic effect.
There are many articles recently citing the end of auroras for the next decade.
The reason cited was that we are at the end of the solar cycle and the solar activity that drives the aurora will decrease. As a result, the auroras will appear significantly less frequently than before.
Fact or Fiction?
The answer is a little mixed. Before we go there, here’s a short video on how auroras are formed.
Now that we know how solar activity drives the auroras, the truth is a little more complicated.
Here’s a solar cycle chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Based on the chart we can tell that we are halfway into the solar cycle and heading towards the solar minimum – which is the lowest solar activity period based on the 11 year solar cycle. As the solar activity gradually declines, aurora occurrence may follow suit.
However, it is important to note that it doesn’t mean that the auroras are going to stop appearing for the next decade straight. Even at the current moderate level of solar activity, the auroras are still putting up an impressive light show, depending on the local conditions.
Looking into the aggressive fluctuations in the monthly value, we can also tell that there is a degree of randomness in the occurrence of sun spot and hence solar activity, which drives the auroras.
Sun – imaged with Tiny1 prototype and Black polymer solar filter. Post-processing: Cropped and re-colored. Notice the relative lack of sun spots, indicating weak solar activity.
Long story short, the auroras are not going away like switching off a light bulb. It might reduce in frequency gradually and we will probably only notice it in the 1-2 years during solar minimum in 2019-2020 where the solar activity is at the absolute minimum.
That said, there are some crazy theories out there predicting doomsday scenarios based on our solar cycle. One predicts a mini ice age as solar activity mutes for 3 solar cycles, another one predicts a Carrington Class solar storm hitting the Earth in the next decade knocking out satellite infrastructure and creating auroras across the Earth as far south as Cuba.
All things considered, take the quiz to find out – Are you ready for capturing the aurora? (Whether it dims or goes into overdrive!)