Astrophotographer Giuseppe Petricca sent in a photo of the sunspot AR 1944, taken Jan. 7, 2014, in Sulmona, Italy. He used a piece of welding glass to filter the sun, producing the green color.
Credit: Giuseppe Petricca
The active sun will take center stage in a live webcast from the online Slooh Space Camera today (Jan. 15).
The sun is currently in the active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24. So far, experts think that this has been the quietest solar maximum in the last century. However, the sun has been a bit more active in recent weeks due to a huge sunspot — called AR 1944 — that appeared earlier this year. Slooh will broadcast live views of the sun accompanied by expert commentary detailing the sun's uptick in activity. You can watch the 30-minute sun webcast live here, beginning at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT).
The sunspot AR 1944 is about seven times the size of Earth. A powerful solar flare shot of by the sunspot is responsible for delaying the launch of a private Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. [See photos of the biggest solar storms of 2014, so far]
"Researchers are excited and a bit dumbfounded by the odd behavior of the sun since the last peak 14 years ago," Slooh astronomer Bob Berman said in a statement. "There is increasing speculation that the nearest star might have already entered a deep, extended era of reduced solar activity. No one in the field is ignorant of the dramatic cessation of virtually all solar storms from 1645 to 1715, accompanied by extreme cold here on Earth, and widespread hardship."
"It remains unlikely that the sun is on the verge of becoming that extreme; nonetheless at the back of our minds flit the possibility that the sun's strangeness will not be transient," Berman added. "On Wednesday, we will review the consequences of that 17th century 'Maunder Minimum' and see how a present-day version might affect our world."
You can also watch the webcast directly through Slooh at www.slooh.com, as well as via Slooh's iPad app.