Solar physicists are happily tracking a new group of sunspots called Active Region 1008. This is something of a relief as the Sun has exhibited a long period of inactivity recently. There is a cycle, lasting approximately eleven years, of solar activity which sees the Sun change from very low numbers of sunspots and little activity in the way of flares and ejections to large numbers of sunspots and many energetic flares. The current minimum of the cycle has continued for almost two years and scientists were beginning to speculate that the Sun was in another Maunder Minimum – the period during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries when the Sun produced almost no activity for seventy years. However, recent increases in activity, including Active Region 1008, have dispelled this idea. It seems that the current minimum, while a little longer than in recent cycles, is not unusual.
REMEMBER: never look at the Sun directly and especially never look at it through any kind of optical instrument. For tips on safe solar observing see the Spacepod site or take a course with the NCS Astronomy Department.