Many of us have been watching the sunspots every day and wondering if the sun was entering into some kind of Dalton minimum.
Solar Cycle 24 was about three years overdue.
Well, it’s still not sure if a Dalton-sort of minimum will or will not occur, but the latest event suggests that the sun has woken from its long slumber for good. Solar Cycle 24 is alive! This is the latest news from NASA.
April 14, 2011:
If you’ve ever stood in front of a hot stove, watching a pot of water and waiting impatiently for it to boil, you know what it feels like to be a solar physicist.
Back in 2008, the solar cycle plunged into the deepest minimum in nearly a century. Sunspots all but vanished, solar flares subsided, and the sun was eerily quiet.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded this X1.5-class solar flare on March 9, 2011. [movie]
“Ever since, we’ve been waiting for solar activity to pick up,” says Richard Fisher, head of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. “It’s been three long years.”
Quiet spells on the sun are nothing new. They come along every 11 years or so—it’s a natural part of the solar cycle. This particular solar minimum, however, was lasting longer than usual, prompting some researchers to wonder if it would ever end.
News flash: The pot is starting to boil. “Finally,” says Fisher, “we are beginning to see some action.”
As 2011 unfolds, sunspots have returned and they are crackling with activity. On February 15th and again on March 9th, Earth orbiting satellites detected a pair of “X-class” solar flares–the most powerful kind of x-ray flare. The last such eruption occurred back in December 2006.