Sure, the sun’s light and heat make life possible on Earth, and its gravity holds our entire solar system together. But our nearest star remains surprisingly enigmatic.
Scientists still don’t know, for example, why its magnetic activity fluctuates in an 11-year solar cycle. Or how powerful solar flares can knock out satellites, disrupt GPS systems, and fry electrical grids here on Earth.
What they do know is that sunspots—those randomly-spaced dark blotches on the sun’s surface—are a critical part of that puzzle. In September, an international team of scientists was able to show, for the first time, how magnetic activity in the sun’s interior leads a sunspot to form. And it revealed how that energy is later released in plasma jets and explosions, phenomena similar to powerful solar flares.
Read the rest of my story for Popular Science here.