Some experts claim the sun will reach its peak of solar activity — known as the solar maximum — much sooner than predicted, which could usher in a potentially disruptive and dangerous period for Earth.

The apex of the solar cycle was not expected to occur until 2025. Yet, a visible increase in solar activity has many scientists predicting not only an early solar maximum but a very powerful one.

“[It’s] going to peak earlier and it’s going to peak higher than expected,” solar physicist Alex James told Live Science.

Earlier in 2023, a paper appearing in Frontiers from a research group headed by Scott McIntosh, deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, suggested that the solar maximum could peak in late 2023.

While a solar cycle typically occurs every 11 years, every cycle sees a varying number of sunspots, which indicates the extent to which the sun’s magnetic field has waned.

“Sunspots appear when strong magnetic fields poke through the surface of the sun,” James told Live Science. “By looking at those sunspots we can get an idea of how strong and complex the sun’s magnetic field is at that moment.”

Usually, the sun has a strong magnetic field that blocks its ionized gas and keeps it close to the surface. Yet as the sun cycles, it reverses its south and north poles, weakening its magnetic field.

The dynamic results in more solar energy affecting Earth, manifesting as solar flares, sunspots, and solar storms. The solar maximum, usually lasting around one to two years, is when such activity peaks.

Recent solar phenomena have been indicators of the sun’s weakening magnetic field.

As The Dallas Express reported in the spring, several states — including Texas — saw the aurora borealis in March and April. While the spectacle of colored lights dancing across the horizon is typically only seen by those residing approximately 1,550 miles from the North Pole, strong solar activity pushed the display south.

Other rare solar incidents have included the most powerful geomagnetic storm seen on Earth in March 2022. It was triggered by an enormous solar tornado — the size of 14 Earths — that was spotted near the sun’s north pole on March 15. It raged for three days straight, spitting out ionized gas into space.

Later that May in China, as covered in The Dallas Express, a solar flare caused the sky to turn blood red in Zhoushan, inciting panic among residents.

Still, Tzu-Wei Fang, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told Live Science that increased solar activity does not necessarily mean increased solar storms. The timing and direction must align perfectly for solar emissions to affect the Earth.

The Earth also has its own magnetic field, which acts as a protective forcefield by redirecting energized particles to the poles — the mechanism behind the aurora borealis.

Nonetheless, increased solar activities can interfere with communication systems, jeopardize power facilities, and disrupt satellite functions.

The timing is essential, as Fang explained to Live Science. If a solar storm were to temporarily create a blackout that coincided with another major disaster, such as an earthquake, the consequences could be disastrous.