"The Sun continues to surprise us," says NCAR scientist Sarah Gibson, the lead author. "The solar wind can hit Earth like a fire hose even when there are virtually no sunspots."
The study, also written by scientists at NOAA and NASA, is being published today in theJournal of Geophysical Research - Space Physics. It was funded by NASA and by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor.
Scientists for centuries have used sunspots, which are areas of concentrated magnetic fields that appear as dark patches on the solar surface, to determine the approximately 11-year solar cycle. At solar maximum, the number of sunspots peaks. During this time, intense solar flares occur daily and geomagnetic storms frequently buffet Earth, knocking out satellites and disrupting communications networks.
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