Space

Scientists Spot First 'Sunquake' of the Current Solar Cycle

Sunspot activity is intensifying on our neighborhood star, increasing the likelihood of some of the most powerful tremors known.

The intensifying solar cycle we currently find ourselves in has already given us a tornado on the surface of the sun, as well as the most powerful flares seen in years. Now researchers have spotted the latest instance of another powerful solar phenomenon. 

sunquake-strip

The ripples of a sunquake are visible in this image from 1996.

NASA

"We have just detected the first sunquake of Solar Cycle 25," Alexander Kosovichev from the New Jersey Institute of Technology tells Spaceweather.com. "It rippled away from the X1.5-class solar flare of May 10, 2022." 

As the name suggests, sunquakes are episodes of seismic activity on the sun similar to an earthquake on our planet but much more powerful. Studying sunquakes could help scientists understand the relationship between sunspots and how they produce strong solar flares. 

First discovered in 1996, sunquakes accompany some but not all solar flares and typically contain about 40,000 times the amount of energy released in the famed 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Just like an earthquake, the tremors ripple through the interior of the sun, but with a mysterious difference. The compression waves accelerate up to 250,000 miles per hour as they move through the sun before suddenly disappearing.

Kosovichev points to the below dopplergram captured from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in which the ripples of Tuesday's sunquake are just barely visible.

Radar imagery of the first sunquake of solar cycle 25.

NASA/SDO

"The ripples are nearly overwhelmed by turbulence," he explains. "This is why it took us so long to discover them."  

The sun undergoes a roughly 11-year cycle in which sunspot and flare activity intensifies to a peak before falling again. Currently we are in the rapidly intensifying part of the cycle, which means we can expect more sunquakes in the next couple years.