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?