After a prolonged “solar minimum,” with record long periods without sunspots, the Sun has become extremely active again. These periods of solar maximum alternating with solar minimum are a normal part of solar activity but the last solar minimum was particularly long: 12.4 years rather than the usual 11 years.
A positive effect of the delay in the return of sunspot activity is that the maximum period will not coincide with December 2012 as previously feared. This was one of the explanations for the fearmongering surrounding the December 2012 date, but it’s now behind schedule and the maximum of the maximum period likely won’t arrive until 2013 or 2014.
In the meantime, Spaceweather reports that “the entire Earth-facing side of the Sun erupted in a tumult of activity” with a C3-class flare, a solar tsunami, radio bursts, coronal mass ejection (CME) and more. The impact of the CME hit the Earth’s magnetic field today at 1:30 pm EDT.
It’s interesting (but not necessarily significant) that this burst of solar energy comes when there’s a lot of planetary energy anyway with Mars and Saturn facing off against Jupiter and Uranus.
CMEs can sometimes affect communication satellites and power grids, but this C-class flares typically do not create a lot of problems. But those in northern latitudes may be treated to some nice auroras!