Is the sun finally beginning to stir? In case you haven't noticed, solar physicists have been scratching their heads in confusion as to why the sun has been so inactive. In fact, it's been so quiet that this period in the solar cycle has been declared the quietest solar minimum on record for at least a century.
During its 11-year cycle, the sun undergoes peaks and troughs in magnetic activity (it is currently in a trough), but for some reason our closest star has taken a vacation, only occasionally producing a few sunspots. Most of the time, the sun's disk is blank, leaving few features for solar astronomers to point their telescopes at.
Just because the sun is quiet doesn't make it any less interesting, however. Although I love seeing huge arcing coronal loops, energetic flares and billowing coronal mass ejections, seeing video footage of the small-scale dynamics in the lower corona and chromosphere shows that the sun is still a vastly dynamic body. It just hasn't been bothered with any fireworks displays of late.
But yesterday, just as solar observers were getting excited for a sunspot that was rotating into view (designated sunspot 1026), another sunspot (1027) appeared in ...