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Tim Lydon

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Next Few Years Could be Hard to Beat The sun is on fire these days. Ahead of an expected spike in solar activity, it is hurling massive blobs of hot plasma toward Earth. And while this may disrupt civilization, the flipside is that it will likely bring awesome aurora. According to Don Hampton of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, approximately every 11 years our sun’s magnetic poles switch. South becomes north, and vice versa. The years preceding this are called the solar maximum. Hampton expects the next maximum to peak in 2025 or 2026. As a solar maximum approaches, violent events unfold across the sun’s surface—including fierce solar winds, collapsing filaments of electrified gas, distortions in the sun’s magnetic field, and massive ejections of plasma—which send geomagnetic storms hurtling toward Earth. In space, it can damage satellites and threaten astronaut safety. On Earth, it can disrupt…

Species Spotlight Gray whales begin their return to Alaska each March. After wintering in their breeding grounds along Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, they swim alongside Alaska’s outer coast on their way to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. In late March, they are often seen near coastal communities including Sitka and Seward. Gray whales roll onto their sides to stir up sediments on the ocean floor, which they then filter through their baleen to trap the small invertebrates that comprise the bulk of their diets. Each summer they eat enough to build fat reserves that last them through the winter months when they typically do not feed. Alaska’s gray whales were hunted nearly to extinction by 1900 but had recently rebounded to about 26,000 animals. However, since 2019 NOAA Fisheries has tracked an “unusual mortality event” involving the deaths of potentially thousands of gray whales. Surveys in 2022 showed low birth rates…