Sunday, 12 July 2009

Flares Are Back!

I'm feeling very scientific today so I thought I'd bring you a couple of items that I found in the blogosphere. First - flares are back! Well, actually it's sunspots that are back but flares make a better headline.

Over at Black Holes and Astrostuff Bob had a great post bringing us the news. Sunspots go through cycles of activity and inactivity, in pretty regular 11 year cycles. Our Sun has been in a period of inactivity for more than two years and scientists were beginning to be concerned. But they have just found out why things have been so slow - a large solar jet stream has taken longer than usual to reach the critical 22 degree latitude. Previous observation has shown that it is when the jet streams reach this point on the Sun's surface that sunspot activity begins.

Now, at last, the slowmo has reached sunspot central and, sure enough, the first significant sunspots in several years have appeared. Sunspots are useful because they help us predict solar activity, which in turn can affect telecommunications. It is also thought that they might have an effect on longterm climate change. It has even been suggested that sunspot cycles influence flu mutations and epidemics.

Anyway, it's good to see that they are back and that the Sun hasn't stalled. Here's a nice pic from Nasa to show what all the fuss is about:

Incidentally, you can observe sunspots yourself, using the same projection method that is used for looking at eclipses. I bought a Solarscope a few years ago and have used it for observing transits as well as sunspots. Or you can see the Sun remotely by checking in on the SOHO website. Happy spot spotting!

By the way - NEVER look directly at the Sun for more than a second or two, even if you are looking for sunspots and NEVER EVER EVER! look at the Sun through binoculars or a telescope - you WILL suffer serious eye damage...and then you wouldn't be able to see sunspots ever again, would you?


Coffeecup said...

Wow it's incredible! Well I learned something, had no idea that solar jet streams existed. The whole universe seems to be so finely balanced and it's quite scary to think on such a scale. Do these flares mean that they'll be spectular Northern Lights? That's something I'd love to see but viewing sun spots through your solarscope gadget sounds pretty neat. Too much light polution here to appreciate anything in the heavens so will check out the website. Excellent!

Daddy Papersurfer said...

That's all very technical. I take it that it's OK to book next year's holiday then? .......

Puddock said...

I know what you mean Steph - it's scary the first time you realise the Sun is just a big ball of liquid fire with all sorts of random fluctuations. Don't worry though - I think we're okay for a while yet!

Daddy P - you CAN go ahead and book your holiday! Won't Ma Belle miss you though? Or does she go too?

Anonymous said...

So incredible. Makes me feel quite insignificant to look at that big flaming ball of power. I didn't realise the sunspots were in being held up. I really enjoyed this post~!