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The sun may be about to collapse part of our atmosphere

The Sun by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory
The Sun by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory Wikimedia Commons

THE sun might soon batter us with a shower of deep space rays so intense, it could cause part of our atmosphere to collapse.

Space scientists reckon we are on the verge of a "deep solar minimum," which is a period of low activity, reports The Sun.

Unlike the name suggests, this could cause an outer layer of the atmosphere called the thermosphere to contract - and it's not entirely clear what the effects of this could be on our planet.

Professor Yvonne Elsworth at the University of Birmingham in England believes that a "fundamental change in the nature of the [sun's magnetic] dynamo may be in progress."

It's backed up by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory's daily snaps, which have shown a spotless sun for 44 days in a row.

This led scientists to believe that it's nearing a tumultuous period not seen since 2008.

Solar minimums are known to spark lots of cosmic ray activity that can penetrate our atmosphere.

These cosmic beams cause "air showers" of particles when they hit our atmosphere.

They pose a health hazard to astronauts, and a single stray cosmic ray could cause a satellite to malfunction.

As well as wiping out communication systems, a solar blast could down power grids.

It's not entirely clear why low solar activity causes our thermosphere to collapse - or what it might be doing to our planet.

But when it happened back in 2008-2009, scientists suggested that climate change might be adding to the cooling and contracting in the upper layer of our atmosphere.

The thermosphere begins at a height of about 53 miles above humanity's heads.

The International Space Station orbits the Earth in the middle of the thermosphere.

Elsworth reckons it will be 2019 before we reach the peak minimum, but that we're already seeing strange things going on with our star.

In her recently published study of the sun, she wrote: "This is not how it used to be and the rotation rate [of the sun] has slowed a bit at latitudes around about 60 degrees.

"We are not quite sure what the consequences of this will be but it's clear that we are in unusual times."

"However, we are beginning to detect some features belonging to the next cycle and we can suggest that the next minimum will be in about two years," said Elsworth.

This story first appeared on The Sun .

Topics:  disaster editors picks the sun

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