Wired magazine recently published an article alerting the public to the start of a new sunspot cycle, and this one appears to be a doozy.
Sunspots are dark spots of cooler temperature on the surface of the Sun (the photosphere). They can be as large as 50,000 miles in diameter, expanding and contracting in size as they move across the surface of the Sun. Sunspot cycles usually last for about 11 years. Sunspots have been monitored since Galileo’s time. Solar flares emerge from the Sun’s surface around sunspots. These violent releases of energy often wreak havoc on human activities and infrastructure when they reach Earth.
Peak sunspot activity for the coming cycle is to occur in about four years. The forecast for 2012 is disruption of GPS satellite signals, possibility for low-flying satellites being knocked out of their orbit, and disruption of radio signals, especially aircraft communications in northerly latitudes.
TPE Links: The Sun
Image courtesy NASA