This year is supposed to be the peak of the 11-year solar cycle, where activity such as solar flares should be at a high point, but the amount of solar activity has been abnormally low, prompting scientists to speculate that the solar cycle is twin-peaked and that we will see an increase of solar activity as the year goes on.
Our star was quite active in 2011, unleashing numerous flares and and eruptions towards the end of that year, but has become surprisingly inactive since them, according to a video by Science@NASA.
Sunspot numbers are well below their values in 2011, prompting some to wonder if our understanding of the Sun is inaccurate and that the sun cycle is not at the predicted maximum.
But Dean Pesnell, a solar physicist of the Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the NASA video that, "This is solar maximum, but it looks different that what we expected because it is double peaked."
Pesnell believes that the reduced solar activity is the result of a small trough at the top of the peak and that solar activity will re-ignite as the year moves onward.
The last solar maxima in 1989 and 2011 had two peaks, Pesnell notes, and what we are seeing at this time is a trough in a similar twin-peaked cycle. The troughs of the last two cycles lasted about two years, which is consistent with the trough the sun in now experiencing. Pesnell is confident the sun will re-ignite as the year goes on and perhaps be in a maximum of solar activity through the year 2014.
While the Sun has been relatively quiet over the year, it has made some headlines recently after a high-speed coronal mass ejection sent solar particles flying towards Earth at some 900 miles per second, causing a mild geomagnetic storm and resulting in some spectacular Northern Lights.
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