Sun storm time!

Science & Space

On January 13, the National Weather Service’s Space Weather Prediction Center issued a scary-sounding news flash. “ALERT,” it said. “Type IV Radio Emission.” If that was too arcane-sounding to get you spooked, there was this detail that followed: type IV emissions usually result from a major eruption on the Sun.

That is exactly what had happened. The Sun is currently entering the peak of its 11-year cycle of magnetic activity. When that happens — the actual peak comes in 2013 — its surface becomes blotchy with sunspots, its luminosity grows fractionally brighter, and it sends giant flares up in sweeping arcs above the solar atmosphere. Every so often, it also ejects a blob of hot, charged particles speeding into space.

(MoreStellar Dust Ring Could Promise Big Things)

Typically, we don’t have much to fear from these kinds of events, but the January 13 blob, known more formally…

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