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The Sun is Waking Up: 5 Sunspots Today

Five sunspots appeared on the Sun on August 11, 2010. Image from SolarCycle24.com

Here’s something we’ve not seen in a long while: five sunspots on the Sun at once. Is the Sun finally waking up from its unusually long and deep solar minimum slumber? While activity on the Sun usually ebbs and flows on a fairly predictable 11-year cycle, this current cycle has been anything but conventional. In 2009, there were 260 days (71% of the time) that the Sun was ‘spotless,’ but now in 2010 so far, the Sun has had spots been spotless for only 35 days. With the last solar maximum occurring in 2001, maybe the Sun is just now ramping up to the next maximum, which is set for 2013. Recent solar flares on August 1 and 7, and now these sunspots may be signaling that the Sun is “throwing off the covers” and starting to wake up.

This marvelous image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows that at about 8:55 UTC on August 1, a measurable solar flare triggered an event known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). This is where the “atmosphere” of the Sun sends out a burst of energized plasma. In this case, nearly the entire Earth-facing side of the Sun was involved.

The High Energy Astrophysics Picture of the week Page used that great “covers” analogy:

The Sun, after a long sleep, is finally waking up. And like any irascible sleeper vigorously throwing off the covers. In this case the covers are composed of high-energy electrons and protons being shot out into space at a tremendous rate. The image above, obtained by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on August 1, shows almost the entire earth-facing side of the sun erupting at once. In this extreme ultraviolet image you can see evidence of extremely ultraviolent activity: a C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (upper right), multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, and a coronal mass ejection. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, showered the earth with charged particles, producing spectacular aurora (northern lights) as far south as Iowa and Telemark, Norway.

And another CME on August 7 has not yet triggered a major geomagnetic storm, but high latitude sky watchers should take a look tonight, just in case.

Sources: High Energy Astrophysics Picture of the Week, SolarCycle24.com, SpaceWeather.com

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Torbjorn Larsson OM August 11, 2010, 1:44 PM

    “Yawn. And now, for my next spotless performance … oh, fiddlesticks!”

  • Cosmic Super Ape August 11, 2010, 3:14 PM

    2012 believers tell me the world is giong to be destroyed in the next solar maximum, which happens to be in 2012.

  • hale-bopp August 11, 2010, 3:18 PM

    I think you made a boo-boo. According to http://www.spaceweather.com, there have been 35 SPOTLESS Days this year which means we have had at least on sunspot 84% of the time. Granted, this is the most active the Sun has been so far, but it has been steadily waking up this year.

  • William928 August 11, 2010, 3:26 PM

    Hollywood Summer Blockbuster: “The Day The Sun Awoke”

  • Olaf August 11, 2010, 3:32 PM

    @Cosmic super ape

    The astronomy knowledge of the 2012 believes are laughable stupid. They suck so bad in astronomy that they would even fail in writing SF books.

  • Aqua August 12, 2010, 7:24 AM

    SDO is such a far out mission…. Thank cod somebody was ‘on the ball’. i.e. SOHO won’t last forever!

  • Torbjorn Larsson OM August 12, 2010, 7:40 AM

    @ CSA:

    Granted the solar cycle is chaotic, but if the maximum is predicted 2013, odds are it won’t happen 2012. Speaking of 2012 bad knowledge, the chaotic behavior means that it would be a coincidence anyway, so it’s bad physics.

    Add the real ROFL, the original idea is based on atrocious calendar knowledge. There were many Mayan city states with their own calendar (Wikipedia), so which calender would you choose? A question not unlike any other religious.

    [This ref I can't find know, but AFAIU the often displayed mark (piktun) has been assumed by 2012ers to be a basis for a calender cycle _but nobody has evidence for that_. The evidence goes in the other direction, these "rebirths" were independent like our celebratory holidays!

    So it is bad anthropology too, to top it off.]

  • Surak August 12, 2010, 12:48 PM

    Our calendar ends on Dec 31st … so there’s no point worrying about the Mayan Calendar ending a couple years from now, the world will already be long gone.

    Of course you could take this as evidence that you’re an idiot if you take coincidental numerical systems as proof that the end is nigh.

    The last time I visited Mexico, I found the Mayans to be alive and well … they just don’t live in huts in the jungle, building pyramids anymore … for the most part.

  • Olaf August 12, 2010, 2:27 PM

    Yeah and those still living Mayans probably have a big laugh when another 2012 nut comes and asks them questions about the end of the world.
    Some of them even does some bit of Hollywood acting pretending that they all know about the secret all Mayans know to get the money from tourists. LOL

  • mtzopera August 13, 2010, 1:05 PM

    Another boo boo 11 years from 2001 is 2012 not 2013
    Thanks to the Mayans

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