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Solar Activity and Its Effects on The Earth

All aspects of life on this planet are affected by solar activity. The sun is constantly active and changing, and this solar variation has the ability to alter things on earth in a variety of ways. Solar variation is defined as disturbances on the sun’s surface, can include a number of things including solar storms and flares. By understanding solar activity, you can also maximize solar energy production by fine tuning your solar panels.

Understanding Solar Activity for Solar Energy Purposes

Solar variation has a great effect on solar energy generating systems. Large solar flares send out huge amounts of photons, which are the actual particles which stimulate the solar cells to generate electricity. This means that solar panels will generate more electricity in periods following large solar storms because of the increased amount of photons. 

The amount of the sun’s energy that strikes the earth also depends on the rotation of the earth itself. The amount of sunlight that your solar panels can absorb depends on the season and the length of the day

The difference between seasons depends on your proximity to the equator - there will be a huge difference if you reside far from the equator, and this difference decreases as you approach the equator. In winter, the sun is much lower in the sky and the days are shortened, but by adjusting the angle of your solar panels to correspond with that of the sun, you can maximize your energy production. 

You can use detailed instructions and a calculator for determining the angle of the sun. It is recommended that you measure this angle at least four times a year, and adjust the angle of your solar panels to correspond with the angle of the sun. Of course it will only be necessary to perform these measurements during one year, and then you can use the measurements at the same time the following year. 

Many people make marks for season on their solar panel mounting brackets so adjusting the angle is a simple and quick process. By making these adjustments, you will be able to ensure that your solar panels are at the angle which will maximize the amount of sunlight hitting them. 

Types of Solar Activity

Solar Storms: large disturbances on the sun’s surface caused by solar flares.

solar flareSolar Flares: sudden releases of a massive amount of energy by the sun, which sends charged particles hurtling into space. They normally cause the surface of the sun to brighten quite dramatically, although only for a short period of time. The effects of solar flares are usually seen on earth one to two weeks after they occur.

Sunspots: visibly darkened areas on the sun’s surface which is caused by abnormal magnetic activity in this area. Most solar flares originate from sunspots and sunspot clusters. The amount of sunspots increases and decreases throughout each solar cycle.

Solar Wind: the constant flow of charged particles originating from the sun’s atmosphere. Although its flow is constant, the amount of particles being discharged and their speed varies over time. Solar flares result in a huge amount of particles being released quickly, as does any other increased solar activity. 

Solar Cycles Explained

The sun is constantly going through cycles which last around eleven years each. Each cycle is marked by periods of increased or diminished solar activity depending on the stage of the cycle. These cycles have a large effect on solar variation, although not all activity is determined by these cycles. Periods of severe solar storms have occurred counter to the cycles, although this is a rare phenomenon. 

The solar cycles are documented through the amount of visible sunspots on the sun’s surface. Through the use of telescopes, scientists and astronomers can monitor the number and size of the visible sunspots and determine which part of the cycle we are currently in.

Solar Wind and the Northern Lights

northern lights Also commonly known as "aurora borealis", The Northern Lights is a term for the phenomenon where solar particles slam into the earth’s geomagnetic field and appear as beams of colored light that fluctuate throughout the sky. 

Although many people only know of the northern lights, the correct term is for the phenomenon is actually polar lights or aurora polaris. This is because lights are often visible in the southern hemisphere as well, and these southern lights are referred to as aurora australis. 

The polar lights originate as charged particles that are carried out from the sun’s atmosphere by solar wind. 

When these particles strike the earth’s geomagnetic field, they create currents of protons and electrons which flow towards the earth’s poles following magnetic lines. These currents gain energy travelling along these magnetic lines until they reach the poles, where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen particles. 

These collisions are what cause the spectacular light show that is associated with the polar lights. The polar lights are much stronger during periods of increased solar variation, as they are directly related to solar flares and storms. Large solar flares produce the most spectacular polar lights because of the large amounts of particles they send out. 

These particles take between a few days and a few weeks to reach the earth based on the speed at which they are sent out, and the particles are tracked the entire way. This makes it very easy to predict when the biggest polar lights shows will occur.

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