September 2011 has been an active month for the Sun.
Having already unleashed two X-flares since Sept. 22nd, sunspot Active Region (AR) 1302 appears to be ready for more action, and is so large that 10 Earths could fit side by side across it.
This is causing great excitement amongst the solar scientists watching the Sun with spacecraft such as Hinode and the SDO.
Photo credit: Bjørn Jørgensen
The flares have impressive coronal mass ejections (CMEs) associated with them, but have not yet been directed towards the Earth. However, solar flares from AR1302 will become increasingly geoeffective as the sunspot turns toward Earth in the days ahead, causing spectacular aurorae and other less welcome effects.
Here is a photo of a spectactular aurora taken in September 2011 by Bjørn Jørgensen in Lofoten Islands, North Norway.
The Sun has been relatively quiet in the past few years, leading some people to speculate that we were headed for another Maunder minimum, with very few sunspots. However, the Sun has well and truly woken up again now, and we can watch out for more action in the next few years as we head for solar maximum.
A movie of the Aurorae filmed from the International Space Station (ISS) during September 2011.
For more information on the latest Sun|trek news, see our new iSun|trek site