Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Sun is stirring

After the deepest solar minimum in 100 years, the sun is finally kicking into high gear. According to Space Weather, the sun spent 260 days without any sunspots in 2009; in 2010, so far, that number has climbed to 45.

Image (left) of the 400,000 km filament in extreme UV by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

On 9th Oct 2010, an incredible 400,000 km filament stretched across the sun's face -- it’s grown to 500,000 km since then, as Space Weather notes, spanning a distance greater than the Earth to the moon. Another filament ran perpendicularly, while multiple groups of sunspots mottled the surface and a few prominences blew off the edges. All this magnetic activity doesn’t always come without consequences, this sunspot erupted in a M1-class flare, while on the following Monday, the huge filament erupted in a C2-class flare, though, not in the direction of Earth.

We're still learning so much about the sun, despite being so relatively close. Missions like NASA's SDO, STEREO, SOHO and others are constantly studying and taking measurements to complete (or rewrite) our solar models. 

Science aside, there is an awe and sense of perspective gained when viewing the images sent back from these orbiting spacecraft. In a country where we no longer have the time to look up to the stars, the visual aids are especially helpful to give perspective to our relationship to the Sun and our planet. our Sun is currently stirring, and when the Sun cycle reaches its peak, I hope we will all be ready.

Photo by Erin Braswell, courtesy the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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