Solar Started

The sun has started a new solar cycle, experts say – CNN

(CNN)Every 11 years, the sun completes a solar cycle of calm and stormy activity and begins a new one.

It’s important to understand the solar cycle because space weather caused by the sun — eruptions like solar flares and coronal mass ejection events — can impact the power grid, satellites, GPS, airlines, rockets and astronauts in space.
And we just got a bit more information about how the sun’s activity could impact us.
The new solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, officially began in December 2019, according to an announcement by the Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel of international experts on Tuesday. It can take as long as 10 months to calculate when the new cycle starts, since the sun is so variable, which is why it was announced Tuesday.
Solar Cycle 25 will be very similar to the one we just experienced for the last 11 years, according to the prediction. The next solar maximum, when the sun is experiencing peak activity, is predicted to occur in July 2025. During that time, it’s possible for solar flares or other eruptions for the sun to disrupt communications on Earth.
Solar Cycle 24 was the fourth smallest cycle on record and the weakest cycle in 100 years, said Lisa Upton, co-chair of Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel and solar physicist at the Space Systems Research Corporation, during a press conference Tuesday.
While Solar Cycle 24 was below average, it wasn’t without risk. An epic storm erupted from the sun in July 2012, but missed colliding with Earth.
“Just because it’s a below-average solar cycle, doesn’t mean there is no risk of extreme space weather,” said Doug Biesecker, panel co-chair and solar physicist at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, in a statement. “The Sun’s impact on our daily lives is real and is there. (We are) staffed 24/7, 365 days a year because the Sun is always capable of giving us something to forecast.”
Biesecker compared it to hurricane season. Even if many of the storms don’t make landfall, the few that do could really matter, which is why space weather predictions are so important.
Sunspots, which are dark spots on the sun, help scientists track the sun’s activity. They are the origin point for the explosive flares and ejection events that release light, solar material and energy into space.
During the peak of solar activity in the last cycle, 120 sunspots were tracked. About 115 sunspots are predicted for the peak of this new cycle. In comparison, an above-average active cycle would include more than 200 sunspots.
“We keep a detailed record of the few tiny sunspots that mark the onset and rise of the new cycle,” said Frédéric Clette, prediction panelist and director for the World Data Center for the Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations at the Royal Observatory of Belgium in Brussels. “These are the diminutive heralds of future giant solar fireworks. It is only by tracking the general trend over many months that we can determine the tipping point between two cycles.”
The more scientists learn about the solar cycle, the better they can prepare to predict when these events may occur.
Over the course of a solar cycle, the sun will transition from a calm period to one that is very intense and active. This activity is tracked by counting sunspots on the sun and how many are visible over time. During the peak of this activity, the sun’s magnetic poles flip. Then, the sun will grow quiet again during a solar minimum. And this takes place about every 11 years.
Over the past year and a half, the sun was quiet with barely a sunspot noticeable on its surface.
The solar minimum occurred in December 2019. During this period, the sun is still active, but it’s more quiet and has less sunspots. Since then, the sun’s activity has slowly increased. The new prediction suggested that the sun’s activity will peak in July 2025.
A total solar eclipse will cross North America in April 2024, which may afford scientists with the opportunity to observe the sun’s activity, like solar eruptions or sunspots, during the event.
“We hope that an eclipse close to solar maximum will not only show us an awe-inspiring corona, but also some big, interesting sunspots on the face of the Sun to help us learn about living inside the atmosphere of an active star and the space weather it creates,” said Valentin Martinez Pillet, director of the National Solar Observatory in Colorado, in a statement.
Now that we’re past the minimum, scientists have predicted the sun’s activity will increase over the months and years to come as we approach July 2025.
“As we emerge from solar minimum and approach Cycle 25’s maximum, it is important to remember solar activity never stops; it changes form as the pendulum swings,” said Lika Guhathakurta, solar scientist at the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement.

Preparing for the sun’s activity

Although the panel got the timing of the maximum wrong during the last cycle, they have improved their methods of prediction, Biesecker said.
“We treated the sun as one big ball of gas, but the hemispheres, south and north, behave independently,” he said. “During the last solar cycle, they were out of phase with each other more than ever before, which ruined our forecast.”
But monitoring the magnetic fields in the polar regions of sun has consistently provided the best forecast, he said.
“There is no bad weather, just bad preparation,” said Jake Bleacher, chief scientist for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters, in a statement. “Space weather is what it is — our job is to prepare.”
Experts said that space weather is transitioning from a focus of research to a more national operational priority across a multitude of agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration and many others.
This allows for better planning, preparedness and protection from space weather hazards.
The agency NOAA shares space weather predictions from its Space Weather Prediction Center in Colorado and has satellites monitoring space weather in real time. It has a hotline with electrical grid operators to warn them, so they can prepare and keep the power on, Biesecker said.
And NASA researches the near-Earth space environment, which will help improve forecasting of space weather.
In addition to protecting the technology we depend on, space weather predictions will grow increasingly important for astronauts in space.
The NASA Artemis program seeks plans to send humans out of low-Earth orbit, where the International Space Station resides, and back to the moon and on to Mars in the future.
The Gateway, an outpost that will orbit the moon and allow for astronauts to land on the moon, will host research to study space weather and radiation that astronauts and the hardware they use will experience when they return to the moon. Scientists at NASA can also use the Gateway to test items astronauts will rely on, like food and pharmaceuticals, to see how space weather could impact their efficiency, Bleacher said.
Like preparing for weather events on Earth, anticipating space weather events allows for better preparation on Earth. Agencies are working together to ensure that the space weather paradigm is similar to the weather paradigm.
“Just as NOAA’s National Weather Service makes us a weather-ready nation, what we’re driving to be is a space weather-ready nation,” said Elsayed Talaat, director of Office of Projects, Planning and Analysis for NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service in Silver Spring, Maryland.
That includes NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-On L-1 observatory, which is expected to launch in 2024 ahead of Solar Cycle 25’s predicted peak.
“This is an effort encompassing 24 agencies across the government, and it has transformed space weather from a research perspective to operational knowledge,” Talaat said.

Read More

Killers Started

How the Killers Started Over Again – Rolling Stone

When the Killers began work on their new album, Imploding the Mirage, they had virtually everything they needed: a batch of new songs, a seven-month break from the road, and a large home studio nestled away in Park City, Utah, where they could work and live without distraction. The only thing missing was their guitarist, Dave Keuning.

Keuning started the band back in 2001, when he took out an ad in a Las Vegas newspaper looking for local musicians to play with. The first song he wrote with future Killers frontman Brandon Flowers after they met up was “Mr. Brightside,” and he’d gone on to play a pivotal role in crafting each album they’d made since then. But he stepped away from the road shortly after the recording of 2017’s Wonderful Wonderful, citing factors including creative frustration, and he hasn’t played with the Killers in the three years since, though they say he technically remains an official member.  (Founding bassist Mark Stoermer has also scaled back his involvement in the band, but he continues to play some shows and studio parts.)

On the road, the Killers were able to soldier on with hired hands, but recording new songs turned out to be a different story. “We were trying to make it sound like the band wasn’t fractured,” says Flowers. “And trying to sound like the Killers. It was almost like we were doing this dumbed-down, mannequin version of the band.”

The more collaborators they brought in to fill that void, the worse it got. They don’t want to name everyone they tried during this self-described “speed dating” process, but producer Jacknife Lee — whom they worked with on Wonderful Wonderful — was one of them. “He was trying to make it sound like there was a Dave there,” says Killers drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. “It felt a little dishonest.”

After six months of recording, they didn’t have anything they were happy with. Then producer Shawn Everett and Jonathan Rado of California psychedelic-rock duo Foxygen entered the picture. “That was a big awakening for us,” says Flowers. “We loved being with them, and it made us want to course-correct.”

Around the same time, producer Ariel Rechtshaid played Flowers some of the new Vampire Weekend album, Father of the Bride. “I realized I couldn’t continue on the path that I was on,” says Flowers. “It reminded me of the way I felt when I heard Is This It [by the Strokes].  I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t just phone this in. If Ezra [Koenig] is doing this, I need to up my game a little bit.’ I was inspired and jealous. For me those, two emotions combined really light a fire under me.”

The Killers decided to throw out nearly everything they had done in Utah and start over in Los Angeles and in their own studio in Las Vegas. Everett and Rado joined the effort full time, and songs started coming more quickly. Still, Keuning’s absence remained a vexing problem. Vannucci recalls the recording of “Caution,” which would become the new album’s lead single: “We got to the point where it was like, ‘Okay, time to put some guitars on it.’ Then we’d be like, ‘Fuck, Dave’s not here.’ We were having Thai food one night, kind of pissed, and I jokingly said, ‘Okay, we’ll call Lindsey fuckin’ Buckingham!’”

The band just so happens to share a publicity firm with the former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, and the next afternoon, Buckingham showed up at the studio, guitar in hand. “He brought that song from 2D to 3D with his guitar playing,” says Vannucci.  “He seemed to really get the musical sensitivities of the song right off the bat and just knew what colors to add.”

That encounter set the template for the rest of the sessions, where everyone from Weyes Blood and K.D. Lang to the War on Drugs’ Adam Granduciel joined in on the fun. “The charm about being in L.A. is that you’re so close to everybody,” adds Vannucci. “They’re just a phone call away.”

The track “Dying Breed” was created in collaboration with producer Flood, whom the band hadn’t worked with since their 2006 LP Sam’s Town. Flowers says that helped give the song “an industrial vibe” that he likes: “What I love about Flood is he doesn’t have a problem x-ing something out if he doesn’t like it. What he did with it was a lot more stark than what we would have done, but it kept the spirit of the song. It has a heart to it that really grabs you.”

Lead-off track “My Own Soul’s Warning” was written near the end of the sessions, when Flowers worried he didn’t have a single yet and started to panic. The song came to him in a burst of inspiration, but getting the right mix has been a problem. “It’s a stubborn son of a bitch,” says Flowers. “We’re near 90 mixes of it I think. But it’s my favorite song on the record. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”

Taken as a whole, Imploding the Mirage has the kind of roaring energy and catchy hooks that recall the band’s early classics, even though the collaborators all bring unique twists to it. “A lot of moments reminded me of making our first album, where you just know that it’s going to connect because of the way it makes you feel,” says Flowers. “I felt like that 20-year-old kid almost inventing something again.”

Still, the Killers aren’t the same band that started out nearly 20 years ago. Stoermer took a step back in 2016, a few years after a pyro mishap in London left him with hearing damage; he remains close to the other guys in the band, and they expect to play select dates with him in the future.

The situation with Keuning, who released a solo album last year, is different. “All I ever wanted was to play guitar in a successful band, but it took its toll in more ways than one,” he said in 2019.  “Mentally, physically, doing the same thing over and over again . . . I needed balance back in my life.” He was also upset about his role in the creative process. “I was writing all these ideas for songs,” he said. “But they always fell to the bottom of the pile. So I felt, well, may as well do something. And it was fun to realize I could have complete control over them, after having very little control in the Killers.”

Both Flowers and Vannucci say the door is open if he ever feels like getting back to work with them. “I don’t want to spill too much dirty laundry, but it’s been years since he’s been really been a productive part of this band,” says Vannucci. “And it sucks. We have to get used to it, and hopefully that will level out and we’ll figure out a way forward. He can come back if that’s what he wants. This is all his decision.”

The band is still mixing Imploding the Mirage, whose May 29th release date has been pushed back by the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re incredibly psyched for fans to hear it, even as they are realistic about their odds of getting a song on the radio — if they do get a major hit of that kind, it would be their first since 2008’s “Human.” In that same time, however, the Killers have became one of the most popular touring rock bands on the planet, regularly headlining stadiums in Europe and packing arenas all over America.

They’ve pulled this off by touring relentlessly, sometimes playing more than 100 shows a gig a year and never getting off the road for more than a few months. “There’s a lot of cities in the world and a lot of people and the fans keep coming,” says Flowers. “It’s addictive. It’s become more than cathartic or more than exciting for me. It’s something that’s a part of my identity, and I still enjoy getting better at it. I love it.”

That strategy will be more complicated this time around: The band booked an extensive European summer tour, followed by a run of American arenas, but venue closures due to COVID-19 mean that most if not all of those dates will have to wait. “It’s frustrating,” says Flowers. “But there’s just more important stuff going on right now. Those stadiums are going to still be there in 2021.”

In the meantime, the group is trying to think of ways to promote the album from their homes. They already taped a stripped-down performance of “Caution” for Jimmy Kimmel Live from Flowers’ bathroom, and they are thinking about more streaming shows. “We’re starting to bat ideas around,” says Flowers. “I guess the only alternative would be to make another record.”

Read More