The space-weather forecast for the next few years: solar storms, with a chance of catastrophic blackouts on Earth. Are we prepared?
An X-class flare, the most powerful in NOAA’s classification system, overloads a sensor on the Solar Dynamics Observatory. With the solar cycle expected to peak in 2013, more flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) may be headed earthward. Photograph by NASA SDO, August 9, 2011 / National Geographic
This artist’s concept illustrates a young, red dwarf star surrounded by three planets. Such stars are dimmer and smaller than yellow stars like our sun, which makes them ideal targets for astronomers wishing to take images of planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets.
Sunspots, which are cooler, darker areas of intense magnetic activity, are most often the source of solar storms. If we take the observations of the Sun’s lower atmosphere in extreme ultraviolet light (July 17-18, 2011), then digitally peer down through the atmosphere to video of the surface seen in filtered light, we can see the correlation of the sunspots to the brighter active regions above the surface.