Something unexpected is happening on the Sun, Nasa says:
While all predictions suggest that 2013 should mark the high point of solar activity over a regular 11-year sunspot cycle - the so-called 'Solar Max' - our star is actually in a remarkably quiet mood.
Nasa said that since the start of the year there has been a pronounced lack of major solar flares and other activity which should be seen at this point in the Sun's cycle.
Above: a picture released by Nasa illustrating low solar activity
Nasa said that "sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent."
It went on:
The image above shows the Earth-facing surface of the Sun on February 28, 2013, as observed by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. HMI observes the solar disk at 6173 Ångstroms, a wavelength designed to study surface oscillations and the magnetic field. HMI observed just a few small sunspots on an otherwise clean face, which is usually riddled with many spots during peak solar activity.
However, there is no reason to panic. Nasa explains in a lengthy and interesting post that the solar cycle is very complex, and can have multiple peaks and troughs over time. It's worth a read if you're interested or terrified.
Meanwhile solar flares are still occurring - one forced the Mars rover Curiosity into safe mode earlier this week - and the current lull is described as a "quiet interlude" rather than a potential source of humanity's ultimate downfall.
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