Sunspot!

A sunspot!!

Ok, ok, so it’s not a very big or dramatic one, but it’s a sunspot all the same (top left, in case you missed it). You might think this is rather a bizarre thing to be excited about, but I have my reasons. Allow me to elaborate…

The Sun, lately, has been quiet. Very quiet. As they would say in the movies, too quiet. It was reported last September that we’ve been in the middle of a lull in the solar wind. It’s actually been the most quiescent period of solar inactivity for about 50 years, ever since we started observing it properly back in the 1960s.

The solar wind controls the size of the Sun’s heliosphere — the bubble of solar material that effectively protects us from interstellar space. When the solar wind is weak, it deflates the heliosphere, causing it to contract by millions of kilometres. The weaker wind may also allow many more energetic interstellar cosmic rays to penetrate our solar system.

Frankly, all of this isn’t really as scary as it might sound at first. The solar wind is still more than potent enough to shield us from the perils of the interstellar medium, despite being weaker than normal. It’s certainly been as weak in the past, without many ill effects to us down here on Earth… But observable sunspots mean that the Sun is waking up and beginning it’s next solar cycle. This also means it should be a bit more interesting for those of us who like to keep an eye on the latest SOHO images. Frankly, that’s pretty exciting. It almost feels like a New Year’s celebration is in order…

Image taken from SpaceWeather.com

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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