Using the most basic language to explain it, a solar cycle is a ten-to-eleven year block of time in which sunspot activity is measured. These kinds of measurements began in 1755 and the latest solar cycle began on January 8th, 2008. According to NASA, it’s expected to be the least active cycle since Solar Cycle 16 (August 1923 – September 1933), which I’m sure we all remember.
While it’s believed that Solar Cycle 24 will be a quiet period, the past couple of days saw some “excitement” (relatively speaking) as the Sun generated its first X-Class solar flare of Solar Cycle 24. For those of you playing at home, a solar flare is essentially a giant expulsion of gas from the Sun — a sun fart, if you will. While these are not uncommon, an X-Class solar flare is the most powerful classification of flare that there is. The last time one occurred was on December 13th, 2006, in which a solar flare ejected what was estimated to be a billion-ton cloud of gas into space and towards Earth.
What does this mean for us? Not much. While this will serve as an opportunity to see how modern satellites operate during a radiation storm, all people in the Northern Hemisphere should expect is to see an increased aurora as the radiation from the solar flare reacts with Earth’s magnetic field.
So before you head to bed tonight, be sure to take a moment and look up. Who knows, you might see a bit of a show.