See how the Sun changed between February 2021 and October 2023. Magnetic activity cyclewe see more spectacular explosions, dark sunspots, loops of plasma, and swirls of superheated gas.

The Sun goes through a cycle of activity that lasts about 11 years. This is caused by the ‘solar dynamo’, which produces Sun’s magnetic field. At the beginning of this cycle (solar minimum) there is relatively little activity and few sunspots. The activity gradually increases until it reaches a peak (solar maximum) and then decreases again.

The most recent solar minimum was in December 2019, just two months ago Solar Orbiter started. Early views from the spacecraft (left) showed that the Sun was still relatively quiet in February 2021.

We are now approaching maximum solar energy, which is Expected to happen in 2025.. Recent views of the Solar Orbiter, taken during its closest approach to the Sun in October 2023 (right), show a dramatic increase in solar activity. This adds weight to recent theories. [paper 1paper 2] That maximum could be reached a year earlier than expected.

The Solar Orbiter will help us estimate the timing and strength of solar cycles. Although Notoriously difficultThis is important because solar activity can seriously affect life on Earth. Extreme bursts can damage the ground’s power grid and disable orbiting satellites.

These images were taken using the Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument. They show the Sun’s upper atmosphere, which has a temperature of about one million degrees Celsius. EUI helps scientists investigate mysterious heating processes in the outer regions of the Sun. Because the EUI sees the Sun in ultraviolet light, which is invisible to the human eye, yellow is added to help us see the changing Sun.

Source: European Space Agency