This image was taken on January 27, 2013, at 11:52 am, shortly before the Public Observatory opened to visitors at the Museum in Washington, DC.
Scientists who study the Sun estimate that it will reach the maximum of sunspot activity (a cycle lasting 11-13 years) in the next couple of months. Scientists also note that this solar maximum seems to be weaker than others in recent decades.
This idea is supported by what we see at the Public Observatory. Though there are some weeks when the Sun exhibits large, dramatic sunspots, it is more common to see a quiet Sun, as in this image. Only a handful of small dark sunspots are visible, each slightly smaller than planet Earth.
The Sun also features a number of delicate prominences extending from its edges, but magnetic activity on the Sun is low, especially considering how close it is to solar maximum.
The low activity on the Sun is a good thing for our technology and our astronauts, both of which are vulnerable to increased radiation and power fluctuations from major solar storms.
Telescope: Lunt 100mm Hydrogen-alpha
Camera: Lumenera SKYnyx2-2M
Image Number: WEB12708-2013
Credit: Photo by Geneviève de Messières, Smithsonian Public Observatory Project
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