The sun, despite being in the peak of its 11 year cycle, is behaving rather timidly.
The sun has seasons, much like we do here on earth. It goes through an 11-year cycle, during which one period, the one we’re in right now, features peak solar activity. This period, the solar maximum, is rather weak this year. In fact, it is the weakest solar maximum observed in the past century. Researchers believe the next maximum may be even weaker. “It’s the smallest maximum we’ve seen in the Space Age,” said David Hathaway of NASA at a recent press teleconference with reporters.
During a solar maximum, the number of sunspots tends to increase dramatically. These spots, which are temporary, are thought to be caused by interaction between the sun’s magnetic field and plasma. They are also the source of coronal mass ejections, solar flares, and here on earth, those in turn cause auroras and can interfere with our electrical equipment.
THe sun is currently at the peak of solar cycle 24
This latest solar cycle began in 2011, and while 2013 was expected to be the cycle’s peak year, there have been fewer sunspots than the last several cycles. “You might think that having a small cycle is disappointing to us but it’s quite the contrary,” says Hathaway, who sees it as an opportunity to let scientists test their knowledge of the sun and its behavior.