The sun rises in the east each day in our western slope skies and appears to shine with constant brightness. However, we shouldn’t take the sun for granted, because the sun’s energy sustains most life on Earth. And, in this age of widespread, complex technology, the sun can impact our daily lives.
The sun, in fact, is not constant, and we need to pay attention to our active, local star.
From 2007 through 2009 the sun was fairly quiet. But, for the past three years, sunspots, solar fares, and ejections of electrically-charged hydrogen and helium have become increasingly common, as have colorful auroral displays at high latitudes.
This year, 2013, the sun is near a peak in its magnetic activity cycle. Astronomers have recorded this 11-year long cycle for the past 250 years. The current Solar Cycle, No. 24, is proving to be somewhat weaker than average. However, we should not become complacent.
The largest solar storm ever recorded, the Carrington Event of 1859, occurred during Solar Cycle No. 10, another fairly weak cycle. During that event, telegraph equipment in Europe and the U.S. caught fire, and aurora, or northern lights, were visible from as far south as Cuba.
Some experts predict that if a solar storm as powerful as the Carrington event occurred today, it could take down parts of the U.S. power grid for weeks or months and massively disrupt our lives. On the bright side, such a solar storm would also energize impressive auroral displays visible from Colorado.