Image of solar activity shows two bright bands circling the Sun

June 16, 2014
Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)

( —Back in 1998, the Sun was behaving as expected. The approximately 11-year cycle of activity was proceeding smoothly, heading towards a peak in 2001.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) captured this image on 9 November 1998 through its , showing radiation from bathed in a gas of around a million degrees Celsius.

This textbook image of solar activity shows two brighter bands circling the Sun at the same latitude in each hemisphere.

At these bright loops and patches are associated with dark smudges known as sunspots. They are produced when loops of magnetism become buoyant and rise from inside the Sun into the atmosphere.

When the begins, the active regions appear at in sparse numbers, disappearing after a few weeks or so. As the cycle proceeds, new and often larger active regions appear more frequently at successively lower latitudes. Many can be larger than Earth, and they sometimes persist for months.

This activity takes place in both hemispheres simultaneously, and about five or six years into the cycle sunspots reach lower latitudes closer to the equator. This is known as solar maximum.

After this, the number of spots begins to decline until they virtually disappear and the cycle starts again at high latitudes. It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Sun why this cycle happens. Certainly, it is linked to the way the Sun generates magnetism deep inside its gaseous layers but the details remain elusive.

In recent years, the Sun has deviated from this textbook behaviour. The current cycle was about two years late in starting, the hemispheres are behaving differently and the peak of activity is relatively modest. The next cycle is expected to continue in this new vein. It may even be weaker than the current cycle.

Explore further: Image: The solar cycle

Related Stories

Image: The solar cycle

April 1, 2014

( —It took 10 years to create this image of our changing Sun. Taken from space by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), it shows a dramatically different picture than the one we receive on Earth.

Solar minimum; solar maximum

November 27, 2012

(—The picture on the left shows a calm sun from Oct. 2010. The right side, from Oct. 2012, shows a much more active and varied solar atmosphere as the sun moves closer to peak solar activity, a peak known as solar ...

Large coronal hole near the sun's north pole

July 20, 2013

The European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured this image of a gigantic coronal hole hovering over the sun's north pole on July 18, 2013, at 9:06 a.m. EDT. Coronal holes are dark, low ...

Solar cycle update: Twin peaks?

March 4, 2013

Something unexpected is happening on the sun. 2013 is supposed to be the year of Solar Max, the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Yet 2013 has arrived and solar activity is relatively low. Sunspot numbers are well below ...

Sun unleashes another X-class flare

November 8, 2013

The sun emitted its sixth significant flare since Oct. 23, 2013, peaking at 11:26 p.m. EST on Nov. 7, 2013. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere ...

Recommended for you

Dawn mission extended at Ceres

October 20, 2017

NASA has authorized a second extension of the Dawn mission at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. During this extension, the spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2014
A new 'Maunder Minimum' maybe?
1.5 / 5 (8) Jun 17, 2014
.....but don't worry about this affecting weather patterns on earth, only man can do that, but it will very likely affect weather patterns on other planets.
1 / 5 (4) Jun 22, 2014
This is blasphemy to the AGW Cult's Scientology.
4 / 5 (6) Jun 22, 2014
This is blasphemy to the AGW Cult's Scientology.

Maybe you can explain how this is blasphemy? It seems like it is only hyperbole from you. Can you give us a reference that shows this to be blasphemy to those who understand AGW?
1 / 5 (4) Jun 22, 2014
I guess you haven't read your cult's doctrine.
Ch1 v1 - It's not the Sun, stupid.
4 / 5 (4) Jun 23, 2014
I guess you haven't read your cult's doctrine.
Ch1 v1 - It's not the Sun, stupid.

Again, please show me where that is said, stupid. What you have been shown if you could read anything technical is that changes in the sun are not important drivers right now. Instead, CO2 is the dominant driver right now. You are clearly too stupid to notice that. Please show me the reference to the comment that says it is not the sun, stupid. It is always the sun and its interactions with the planet. We just happen to be adding CO2 to the atmosphere of the planet, stupid. If you knew how to calculate radiant heat transfer you could see the effect of the CO2 yourself. You are an incomparable moron.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.