The sun is currently bubbling up. While satellite operators are still analyzing the consequences of last weekend’s major solar storms in detail, an even larger eruption from the same huge sunspot group called AR 3664 has already followed.

However, the sun has now continued to rotate and AR 3664 has moved slightly to the side, so that from astronomers’ perspective, only a portion of the ejected solar material should hit the Earth during eruptions.

Astronauts on the ISS space station can also be affected by solar storms. “The decision as to whether the crew of the ISS has to go to a protective area during a solar storm depends on the strength of the solar storm and the potential radiation exposure for the crew,” said ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst to the German Press Agency. According to NASA, there was no direct danger to the ISS crew during the weekend’s solar storm.

Astronomers expect further eruptions

The sun’s activity fluctuates in an approximately eleven-year cycle. The current cycle is currently at its maximum – it lasts a few years, during which there are always relatively many solar flares. “On Tuesday we saw the strongest eruption of the entire cycle so far,” said Sami Solanki from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen. It cannot be said whether the peak of the current maximum has already been reached.

The current solar cycle is already somewhat stronger than the previous one, explained astronomer Volker Bothmer from the University of Göttingen. He estimates that the maximum will last about two years and then decline. He couldn’t predict whether the activity would get even stronger or not. According to NOAA data, the number of sunspots is currently nowhere near as high as it was at the peak of the maxima around the late 1950s and early 2000s.

Solar storms of the last few days have had consequences

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) of the US Atmospheric Agency NOAA, Tuesday’s big eruption also produced the strongest flare – a kind of huge flash of light – of the current solar cycle. Its radiation caused high-frequency radio signal failures across America. Amateur radio operators, aviators and sailors may have noticed a sudden loss of signal at high frequencies. Geomagnetic effects such as the northern lights were considered unlikely.

Last weekend’s major solar storm not only caused colorful northern lights in numerous regions around the world, but also caused malfunctions in several satellites, for example at the European space agency Esa. “Esa satellites are also affected, but we are still collecting data,” confirmed an Esa spokeswoman. Some satellites in Earth orbit are slightly off course due to the change in atmospheric drag that always acts on them, she said. Course corrections should now get them back on track.

Several farmers in North America complained about a failure of the satellite-based US navigation system GPS, as reported by the New York Times, among others. They therefore had to interrupt their sowing because they were using the system to work in the fields. According to a report in Nature magazine, Internet connections from Starlink, which belongs to the space company SpaceX and has thousands of satellites, were also temporarily affected. The instruments of the US space agency Nasa’s “Chandra” X-ray observatory were temporarily stowed away to protect them. It orbits the Earth and observes space.

Will it now hit Mars?

Even though sunspot group AR 3664 disappears behind the Sun as seen from Earth, astronomers can continue to analyze it. The “Solar Orbiter” space probe orbits the sun and observes it from directions other than Earth, said Solanki, whose institute is involved. Researchers expect a coronal mass ejection could soon impact Mars, Shannon Curry, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Nature magazine.