The extreme-ultraviolet sun as observed on Nov. 24, 2013 -- the magnetically dominated lower corona glows bright.
The surface of the sun has been surprisingly calm of late -- with fewer sunspots than anytime in in the last century -- prompting scientists to wonder just what it might mean here on Earth.
Sunspots have been observed for millennia -- first by Chinese astronomers and then, for the first time with a telescope, by Galileo in 1610.
Sunspots appear in roughly 11-year cycles -- increasing to a daily flurry and then subsiding drastically, before amping up again.
But this cycle -- dubbed Cycle 24 -- has surprised scientists with its sluggishness.
The number of spots counted since it kicked off in December 2008 is well below the average observed over the last 250 years. In fact, it's less than half.
"It is the weakest cycle the sun has been in for all the space age, for 50 years," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association physicist Doug Biesecker told AFP.
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