July 2025 was the date astronomers expected to see the Sun reach the peak of its 11-year activity cycle. According to their initial estimates, this activity was supposed to plateau at around 115 dark spots per month.
However, in April of last year, researchers from NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) revised their position, bringing the date of the solar maximum closer and estimating it at around 185 visible spots on the Sun per month.
Signs of Intensifying Solar Activity
Revealing signs of increasing solar activity have emerged since then. Last June, the number of sunspots reached its highest level in over 20 years, with one sunspot growing to the size of 10 Earths. The number of X, M, and C-class solar flares is also on the rise.
Today, experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announce that our Sun may reach its peak of activity even earlier, between January and October 2024. This anticipated peak is expected to be both earlier and stronger, with estimates ranging from 137 to 173 sunspots per month. It should also last longer than the initial forecasts suggested.
To make these predictions, astronomers rely on records of sunspot numbers from past cycles, statistics, and models of solar dynamics. They now plan to update their forecasts on a monthly basis based on sunspot counts. This is because the risk of potentially powerful geomagnetic storms will increase as we approach the solar maximum. These solar storms have the potential to damage our electrical grids and satellites, so it’s essential to be prepared to implement protective measures.
A Spectacular Solar Maximum on the Horizon
The good news is that this also promises us more numerous, extensive, and spectacular auroras in the coming months. It was a bit like the polar aurora storm that could be observed this past weekend, even from Europe. So, prepare for an enchanting winter…
It’s also good news for those planning to enjoy the total solar eclipse on April 8th, especially from the United States. It will occur around the solar maximum, providing a view of a particularly active solar corona. This may allow for the observation of solar prominences, those huge loops of plasma extending outward from the Sun.