The Solar Maximum is Here: Everything You Need to Know


I admit the incoming Solar Maximum put some pressure on developing our first telescope, the Soleye 300.

Since the telescope features many custom-made, detail-rich parts that require fine CNC work and some special equipment imported from three different continents, the manufacturing process is quite long. It takes several months, and the number of orders we can take is limited. All of them are hand-built by myself, so, I guess it's not that surprising. 

This means those who order their scope right now (towards the end of February) are still in time to make the most of what this year's summer offers. 

The solar maximum is the perfect opportunity to make some unique and memorable solar photographs, so this would be 'high time' for Soleye products. 

But why so?

What is the Solar Maximum?

The Sun is the most interesting object you can observe in the sky. This is not an opinion; it's a fact based on the physical specifics of a star. 

Okay, we can dispute the true meaning of the word interesting, but what cannot be disputed is that the most dynamically changing thing you can look at up there is the Sun. 

This dynamism, the Sun's activity, peaks this year.

This is because the observable activity of the Sun is cyclical. The polarity shift holds up this cycle: the Sun has its own Poles, and they exchange their locations. This shift is happening gradually. The magnetic fields start to weaken until they lose all polarity, and then they emerge again with opposing polarity.

As the Sun's magnetic field weakens and gets disturbed, the probability of sunspot forming goes up. The solar maximum is the period of time when the Sun's magnetic field is the most disturbed, and the highest number of sunspots are likely to appear especially the very big ones.

It's really hard to define the exact time of the maximum, but the 'space weather' scientists are positive that the current solar maximum is already underway, and according to the predictions, it will last until October.

What Happens During a Solar Maximum?

The highest number of sunspots and the greatest ones in size should be observable. 

Other significant events also happen: massive plasma outbursts called 'prominences' can be captured with appropriate solar photography equipment. These are 'tentacles' of plasma reaching out from the Sun. Sometimes, these extensions suddenly activate and fly outward. When this event is accompanied by coronal mass ejection and/or flaring up, we call it a solar flare. 

The corona of the Sun is very active in general during these times.

When a solar flare is aiming towards the Earth, it can cause 'magnetic storms' down here, which affect many things that use electro-magnetism, like electrical grids or GPS.

The most significant geomagnetic storm in history was the Carrington Event, which occurred back in 1859. The arriving hit was so powerful that the aurora borealis was visible in the sky, much closer to the equator than usual. (All the way down to Colombia!)

How Can You Prepare for the Solar Maximum?

We are all excited and eagerly awaiting the 'big one', a nice and unique sunspot formation. It can happen any day.

Sunspots can form and dissolve in hours, but some have been steady for weeks, even months.  

Now, the Sun rotates once in about 27 days, so you can see a dedicated area on its surface for less than two weeks. Once an exciting formation shows up on the edge, turning towards us, you've got a few days, maybe a week, to prepare for the moment when the area will face directly towards the Earth.

It's best to have a plan for this occurrence. Find out the best locations you can get to in a few days, and be ready to take a little holiday. Make sure your gear is prepared - one of the key advantages of the Soleye 300 is that it's relatively lightweight (13 kg), easy to carry, and you can quickly set it up anywhere.

Travel a bit and enjoy the events that only happen every 11 years!

An 11-year cycle might not seem that long but think about the technological advancements in the last decade. One can only feel excited about the solar photos people can take this year and the next at this time of peak solar activity. 

There will be massive upgrades from the ones done at the time of the last solar maximum in 2013, for sure.