What is the Solar Maximum?

Low Solar Activity

Since the human race started monitoring the Sun’s activity it has become evident that the number of sunspots rises and falls over time. Generally speaking this occurs over a period of approximately 11 years, although it can be anything up to 14 or 15 years, and is called the Solar Cycle. During any given Solar Cycle, the number of sunspots rises to a maximum (Solar Maximum) and falls to a minimum (Solar Minimum).

The important thing to remember is that the Northern Lights appear at every stage throughout the Solar Cycle and, contrary to what has been suggested elsewhere, Solar Minimum does not mean the lights suddenly pack their bags, up sticks and take a Caribbean holiday for a few years.

Of equal importance is the fact that Solar Maximum is not a single moment in time, it lasts for several years. The absolute maximum is marked by a flip in the Sun’s polarity rather than the sunspot count and only indicates the half way point of any Solar Maximum, basically, half over, half still to come. Additionally, there is considerable research which suggests that more significant solar events occur in the early stages of the declining period following Solar Maximum.

Doug Bieseker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center has researched previous solar cycles and believes that the declining phase is when the most violent solar activity occurs.

High Solar Activity

Biesecker has analyzed historical records of solar activity and he finds that most large events such as strong flares and significant geomagnetic storms typically occur in the declining phase of solar cycles—even weak ones.

Credit: Science@NASA

In our opinion, the essential thing during any phases of the Solar Cycle is to be in the places where the lights occur most frequently ie.The Auroral Zone. That’s where you have the best chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis regardless of whether we are at the peak or the nadir of the current cycle.

As ever, we’ll leave the final message on this subject with the local experts. Markku Inkila is a Northern Lights Photographer and Guide who has grown up in North East Finland with the Aurora Borealis as a constant companion. We asked him for his opinion regarding the best time in the Solar Cycle to see the Northern Lights and here is his response.

There has been lots of talk about solar maximum that was supposed to be last year and the year before, but the thing is that we are in the middle of the "aurora zone" so it doesn't matter what year it is, we see them nearly every day when it's clear sky.

So there you have it, get yourself into the Aurora Zone, hope for clear skies and forget about where we are in the Solar Cycle.

Low Solar Activity
High Solar Activity