INA - SOURCES
The Sun has been pretty quiet lately. Over the last few years, its flare activity has been relatively weak and infrequent… but it may be about to kick up again. On May 29, it was filmed spitting out its biggest flare since October 2017.
This could be a sign that the Sun has already entered its new solar cycle and will be ramping up to a higher level of activity in a few years, as scientists have been anticipating.
The Sun seems pretty consistent to us here on Earth on a day-to-day basis, but over the years, astronomers have ascertained that it actually goes through 11-year activity cycles, with a clearly defined minimum and maximum.
The solar minimum - characterised by a minimal level of sunspot and flare activity - marks the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. We can broadly predict when this is going to happen, but it's actually really hard to pin it down to smaller than a period of a few months.
The solar cycle is based on the Sun's magnetic field, which flips around every 11 years, with its north and south magnetic poles switching places.
It's not known what drives these cycles, but the poles switch when the Sun's magnetic field is at its weakest, also known as solar minimum.