Want to see what happens when the sun wakes up? This amazing compilation shows every energetic X-ray outburst from the last five and a half years as our local star ramps up toward the most active part of its cycle.
The solar cycle is a natural 11-year variation in sunspot numbers and space weather activity that occurs when the sun’s internal magnetic field flips. During solar minimum, the sun has very few or no sunspots and produces few large flares and coronal mass ejections — energetic explosions on the sun that spew tons of radiation and charged particles into space. But at solar maximum it shoots ever more outbursts, which can disrupt communications on Earth, sometimes to a catastrophic degree.
The movie was taken with the X-ray camera aboard the Hinode spacecraft, which is jointly run by the Japanese space agency JAXA, NASA, and their international partners. It begins in January 2008, when the latest solar cycle officially started. At first, all is quiet. Around two minutes into the video, active regions start firing one at a time. From there on out, the sun’s surface is a roiling mass of teeming magnetic field lines and X-ray radiation that gets stronger and stronger. By the 4-minute mark, corresponding to the most recent months, the sun is continually shooting off enormous flares and energetic particles. The final burst-filled shots are from July, and the sun isn’t quite done yet.