Solar activity ramping up to a 2013 peak

(Credit: NASA/SDO )

We've seen a lot of solar activity in the last few months as the sun nears the active peak in its 11-year cycle.

Every 11 years, the sun goes through what is called the solar cycle: measurable and repeated changes in its activity. Next year, 2013, is when it will reach the peak of its current cycle — as we can see in the image above, comparing the sun's activity two years ago to last month.

The last inactive period — known as solar minimum — was in 2008; next year, as the sun reaches solar maximum, we can expect to see an increase in sunspot activity.

What does this mean for us down here on Earth? Well, a lot of aurora borealis and australis activity, for one, so if you're heading to or living in regions that are most likely to be affected, we envy you.

Unfortunately, the same solar activity that causes aurora — coronal mass ejections (CMEs), or solar flares — also cause magnetic storms. These can disrupt communications and navigation equipment, damage satellites and result in power surges that harm power lines and cause outages.

There are a few other effects, too: solar flares increase the concentration of the ozone layer, which means that there are fewer harmful UV rays penetrating to the surface. That is not a good reason to stop applying sunscreen, just so you know.

Skywave radio equipment can also be affected by the increased ionisation of the ionosphere during a solar peak, either for better or worse.

Our prediction? Mostly, it's going to be fascinating.

Oh, and for Aussie photographers looking to chase the aurora: Space Academy has a guide on the ideal camera settings to use and a link so you can sign up to SMS alerts from the Bureau of Meteorology.

More on: Activity, Flare, Nasa, Solar, Sun, Storm

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so nice device
Posted by PiyushD
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Tokin' some GREAT **** ehh Michelle?!?! LOL!! Made my day!!! ;-)
Posted by AlexL
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Awesome!

I think a great follow up article would be how to chase Auroras and were its best visible in Australia or the southern hemisphere.

Hope someone at CNET is capable, as theres a market of hobby photographers that would love to catch them in action. So a write up on where/when and the equipment and settings required to best capture this phenomena.

Cheers.
Posted by Aionios
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Space Academy has one! I've edited it in above, but here's the link just for you :)

http://www.spaceacademy.net.au/env/terra/aurora/aurora.htm#view
Posted by Michelle Starr
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Thats great! Will definitely check it out the article.

Thank you.
Posted by Aionios
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We ham radio operators love it during the rise in solar activity except when the geomagnetic storms wipe out the radio wave propagation. Between the solar storms radio wave propagation is enhanced and the higher the solar flux index and the sunspot number the better for good world wide contacts on the radio, especially on the upper bands like the 10 and 12 meter bands where at solar minimum in the 11 year cycle those band are usually only good for local signals. I've talked to Japan off a simple 260 feet long piece of wire for a antenna this year on the 10 meter band! I love it!

Very 73=Best regards from amateur radio station KU4GW located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina
Posted by CliffF
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Ok doomsday soothsayers, lets see how crazy you can get over this... GO!
Posted by Chandler
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Maybe our entire purpose here on Earth is that we're just Sun-snacks, and it's biding its time while it gets strong enough to reach us, toast us and eat us. Every cycle, it gets just a little bit stronger ... 11 years closer to devouring the entire human race ...

Until a hero, the Chosen One, awakens to his/her true power and rises up against the evil Lord of Nuclear Fusion! With one swipe of the Atomic Sword of Binding, the Sun is slain and the humans are freed!

And then we all die of hypothermia.
Posted by Michelle Starr
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Or we get rescued by a Dark Star:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Pail_of_Air
Posted by thesorehead
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See, now you're just getting silly. There's no such thing as dark stars.
Posted by Michelle Starr
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