This is Scientific American 60-Second Space. I'm Clara Moskowitz.Got a minute?
Every 11 years, the sun's magnetic activity ramps up, sometimes to a frenzy, causing large sunspots and strong flares.
Right now we should be in the middle of such a solar maximum.
But we've yet to see the expected level of activity.
In fact, this latest solar max has been a bit of a dud.
"Compared to say the five or six previous cycles, this is really weak."
That's astronomer Sarbani Basu of Yale University, at the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston on June 3rd.
"And then when we went back and started comparing with whatever little data we had of the previous cycles,
we realized it may not be that peculiar after all."
We don't really know yet whether the current cycle is the oddball, or if previous cycles were unusually strong.
Ground-based telescopes started closely monitoring solar activity only around 60 years ago.
And high-quality space-based observations go back just a decade, not even a full solar cycle.
So astronomers are eagerly awaiting what the future can tell us.
"It's going to be fun the next few years, I'm looking forward to it."
Thanks for the minute, for Scientific American 60-Second Space.I'm Clara Moskowitz.