The coming year will be an important one for space weather as the Sun pulls out of a trough of low activity and heads into a long-awaited and possibly destructive period of turbulence. Many people may be surprised to learn that the Sun, rather than burn with faultless consistency, goes through moments of calm and tempest.
But two centuries of observing sunspots -- dark, relatively cool marks on the solar face linked to mighty magnetic forces -- have revealed that our star follows a roughly 11-year cycle of behaviour. The latest cycle began in 1996 and for reasons which are unclear has taken longer than expected to end. "The latest prediction looks at around midway 2013 as being the maximum phase of the solar cycle," said Joe Kunches of the Space Weather Prediction Center at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).