Our Sun is pretty stable, thankfully, or we’d have a pretty rough time or we probably wouldn’t exist at all. Despite its stability it does have its ups and downs and right now its going through through a bigger down than normal. The Sun in currently in a Solar minimum, that period which is identified by the lack of sunspots. We’ve been observing sunspots for about 400 years so astronomers have built up a pretty good understanding of the cyclical nature of sunspots and how they come and go. With sunspots comes a whole lot of activity on the Sun including solar storms and the odd coronal mass ejection, fortunately not very often. The minimum and maximum cycles go in an 11 year cycle so we’re not due for a maximum for another 5 years or so.
Today we were taking photos of the Sun through a special solar telescope that has a couple of very powerful filters, so we can safely observe the Sun. It was a very exciting day because a Sunspot was visible, at last, so rather than taking photos of an empty Sun, like the one below which we took just before Christmas, we finally ended up with a picture of the Sun with something on it.
The good thing about a Solar minimum is that we are less likely to get blasted with high energy particles from a Coronal Mass Ejection so not much chance of a Carrington Event 2 at the moment. The interesting thing about this current solar minimum is that is the most minimum for nearly 100 years. During 1645 to 1715 there was a period of significantly reduced Solar activity where seeing any sunspot was quite rare. This period is known as the Maunder Minimum, it was followed a few years later by another period of low solar activity. This was known as the Dalton Minimum and it ran from about 1790 to 1820. They work out the solar minimums by counting the number of days that sunspots are not visible on the Sun’s surface. Here’s today’s picture showing that today will not be counted as a sunspot free day in 2019!
As exciting as sunspots are, solar flares offer a lot of spectacular Solar viewing. The cover picture for this article was a huge flare visible on the limb of the Sun today and it’s just visible in the above picture. A few days ago we also took a picture of the solar flare below, leaping out from the surface of the Sun (on the edge).
Our nearest star, even on a quiet day, always has something going on so well worth a look if you can access a solar telescope. Remember though, never look at the Sun with your eyes or through binoculars or through a telescope (unless it’s a solar telescope or has all of the correct filters) or you will do permanent damage to your eyesight.