Airbus Defence and Space

The sun flares up again

After a baffling period of dormancy, the sun is showing signs of more activity. A new NASA space observatory will be there to watch.

In recent years there have been very few sun-spots or solar flares; our sun has been the quietest it’s been for a very long time. The last time it was this dormant was in 1913 and the longest known period of inactivity was in the 17th century, lasting for around 70 years and coinciding with a mini ice age.

The sun has been the subject of attention by scientists for centuries, but astronomers still know relatively little about what makes it wax and wane. The latest quiet spell had been baffling sun-watchers, with no one able to say why there was such a lull in activity. Now, however, new photos from space telescopes taken in recent weeks show the sun has flared up again.

On 9 February NASA will be launching its new Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) to study the sun’s magnetic field with unprecedented detail. It will collect high-resolution images, giving scientists in-depth, real-time information that can help them better understand what causes the 11-year solar cycle.