Is It Hot In Here? Solar Activity Reaching Its Peak

1||Similar to the changing seasons here on Earth, the Sun undergoes cycles every five to six years between periods quiet and stability, and of activity. 2011 marks the high season for solar activity including flares, sunspots, and solar wind that when buffeting the Earth, disrupts communications and satellites. On Wednesday this week, the sun released its largest solar flare in four years – the biggest since Dec 6, 2006.||NASA Goddard Photo and Video&&

2||A photo of solar activity. In the upper right there is a loop of superheated gas erupting from the sun’s surface.||NASA&&

3||A photo of the Dec. 6, 2006 flare.||NASA Goddard Photo and Video&&

4||A close-up view of a sun-spot from 2007.||NASA Scientific Visualization Studio&&

5||The last time the sun was this active was in 2000-2001. This is a coronograph from 2000 depicting the sun’s corona, the atmosphere of the sun composed of plasma and ions. The corona extends millions of miles above the surface of the sun.||NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory&&

6||A powerful solar flare from 2003.||NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory&&

7||A 1970s x-ray image taken of the sun’s outer corona. Pictures like this helped astronomers and physicists discover how large the sun’s atmosphere really is.||NASA Marshall Space Flight Center&&

8||A coronal loop exploding from the sun’s surface. Thirty lined-up Earths could fit in this loop. || NASA Solarsystem Collection&&

9||Another photo of solar activity. Solar flares send gas into space at more than five million miles per hour.||NASA&&

10||The bright spots and streaks around this 1997 coronograph are according to NASA, “High energetic (E>100 MeV) protons accelerated at the site of the flare.”||NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory&&

11||A photo of solar activity taken Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011.||NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center&&

12||This 2003 photo captures what was then the largest solar flare to date. It released over a billion tons of gas and matter from the sun.||NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory &&

13|| ||NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory &&

14||A NASA illustration comparing the size of Earth to the size of the Sun. Over 900,000 Earths could fit inside the Sun. ||NASA Spitzer Space Telescope Collection&&

15||Four different views of the sun.||NASA Goddard Photo and Video&&

16||A 2009 photograph from Earth of the Space Shuttle passing in front of the Sun.||ZUMA Press/Newscom&&

17||||NASA Solar System Eclipse Gallery&&