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What’s the Big Deal about Solar Cycles?

16 Sep 2020, 09:16 UTC
What’s the Big Deal about Solar Cycles?
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Sun and Earth (Credit: NOAA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — The Sun is Earth’s nearest star—a giant orb of hydrogen and helium about 93 million miles away. To many people, it looks like the same constant ball of light day after day as it moves across the sky. However, our Sun actually goes through a cycle of increasing and decreasing activity that lasts for about 11 years.

A magnetic personality

The Sun is a turbulent place where energy and light are generated at its core via a process called nuclear fusion. At its surface, the Sun seethes, boils, and churns at a temperature of roughly 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit while constantly spewing a stream of gases and electrically charged particles into space.

Called solar wind, these particles can travel over one million miles per hour. Luckily though, the Earth has a magnetic field that surrounds us like a protective bubble, deflecting most of this harmful radiation. When this happens at the poles, the radiation sometimes appears as bright auroras (aka, the northern and southern lights) from the ground.

Like the Earth, the Sun, which is made of electrified gases called plasma, also generates its own magnetic field via a ...

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