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The sun ushered out 2013 and welcomed 2014 with two mid-level flares on December 31, 2013 and January 1, 2014. Imagery of the flares was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on the sun, collecting new data every 12 seconds. A moderate solar flare on May 17 lit up ground stations all over the world with an unexpected and puzzling pulse of high-energy particles. Major solar flares, flashes of light at various wavelengths often associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are known to disrupt communications and can even trip power grids on Earth.
Data on the event was captured by the European satellite called PAMELA, or Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics. Scientists don’t know if the extremely energetic particles registered on the ground are the results of a shockwave in front of a CME or if the particles come from the solar flare itself. 2013 was supposed to be the year of solar maximum -- the peak of an 11-year cycle when the number of sunspots that mar the sun's surface is at its highest.
These sunspots, which are actually cool areas on the sun's surface caused by intense magnetic activity, are the sites of spectacular solar flares and CMEs, or coronal mass ejections, which can send billions of tons of solar material hurtling into space. Sure, we've seen a handful of major solar flares, and a few extra fast CMEs, but scientists say our current solar maximum, known as solar maximum 24, is the weakest one in 100 years. To help us understand what's going on here, the American Astronomical Society asked three leading solar scientists to provide an update on the 24th solar maximum at a news conference Thursday.
It turns out there is some controversy in the scientific community about exactly why this year's solar maximum has been so unspectacular. Graphs going back to the 1700s show that the number of sunspots during solar maximums in the early part of the last three centuries since humanity has been studying the solar cycle is much lower than the number of sunspots during solar maximums in the latter half of those centuries. Other scientists are not convinced that this year's weak solar maximum is part of a 100-year cycle, and have not ruled out the possibility that the sun might be on the verge of a Maunder Minimum, a period of time when it exhibits almost no sunspots. Nobody knows exactly what is going on, because we've only been studying the sun for such a tiny sliver of its life, and so much of its behavior is a mystery.
Depeding on the metrics used to quantify Solar Activity, Solar Cycle 24 is weaker than the 100 yr cycle, and even matches the 200 yr cycle (Dalton Minimum). It is also doing something akin to the Maunder Minimum, which is diving back down at nearly the same slope it came up on.
1.) Shrinking the umbral (darkest areas) of sunspots, which if continued will make it die off even faster (a la the last cycle before the Maunder Minimum).

It must be borne in mind that the telescopes used to observe in the early days were far inferior to the optics of even the 19th Century. Go postal, sending out a monster flare to make up for the lack of other output (Svalgaard)? When we are looking for the source of the Sun`s variability, in its near environment, we have a promising option. Namely, the changes in the circuit caused by the motions of the Sun`s wide binary companion. Beware the Wendigo: Terrifying beast of Native American lore with insatiable hunger to devour mankind!
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Newswise — When a solar flare filled with charged particles erupts from the sun, its magnetic fields sometime break a widely accepted rule of physics. New research led by a Johns Hopkins mathematical physicist focuses on the “misbehavior” of magnetic fields in solar flares.
But the May 17 flare was an M-class event, moderate and relatively common and not expected to create disturbances on the surface of Earth. Ryan is a co-investigator on the PAMELA mission, and hopes the spacecraft data will reveal how the high-energy particles morphed on their way to Earth and resulted in the mysterious GLE. The flux-freezing theorem dictates that the magnetic lines of force should flow away in lock-step with the particles, whole and unbroken. In this image, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured an X1.2 class solar flare, peaking on May 15, 2013. Yet either the flare or the CME generated a ground-level enhancement (GLE), a blast of high-energy particles that lit up ground stations called neutron monitors on Earth for the first time in nearly six years. This week on Behind the Headlines, Joe Quinn and Pierre Lescaudron will be discussing some ideas about how a postimperial global society might be structured and why it is a very good idea that we all begin to seriously consider a future where building society from the 'ground up' is necessary. However, the last time there was a Maunder Minimum, it was preceded by a relatively strong solar maximum. Instead, the lines sometimes break apart and quickly reconnect in a way that has mystified astrophysicists.But in a paper published in the May 23 issue of the journal Nature, an interdisciplinary research team led by a Johns Hopkins mathematical physicist says it has found a key to the mystery.

Each wavelength represents material at a different temperatures, helping scientists understand how it is moved and heated through these events. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.
The culprit, the group proposed, is turbulence -- the same sort of violent disorder that can jostle a passenger jet when it occurs in the atmosphere.
Using complex computer modeling to mimic what happens to magnetic fields when they encounter turbulence within a solar flare, the researchers built their case, explaining why the usual rule did not apply. This is a chance to show your likeness. So get your Solar Flare HD Wallpapers and display it. We wanted to figure out why this failure occurs.”The flux-freezing theorem was developed 70 years ago by Hannes Alfven, who later won a Nobel Prize in physics for closely related work. His principle states that magnetic lines of force are carried along in a moving fluid like strands of thread cast into a river, and thus they can never “break” and reconnect.
But scientists have discovered that within violent solar flares, the principle does not always hold true. Studies of these flares have determined that their magnetic field lines sometimes do break like stretched rubber bands and reconnect in as little as 15 minutes, releasing vast amounts of energy that power the flare.
To find out, Eyink teamed up with other experts in astrophysics, mechanical engineering, data management and computer science, based at Johns Hopkins and other institutions. No one person could have accomplished this.”The team developed a computer simulation to replicate what happens under various conditions to the charged particles that exist in a plasma state of matter within solar flares.
Most physicists expected that flux-freezing would play an even larger role as the plasma became more highly conducting and more turbulent, but, as a matter of fact, it breaks down completely. In an even greater surprise, we found that the motion of the magnetic field lines becomes completely random.

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