Every 11 years the sun goes through a cycle. It is noticeable by the increase and decrease of sunspots which are dark patches on the Sun’s surface. The sunspots are counted by the solar maximum and solar minimum in a solar cycle.
A solar maximum is the greatest number of sunspots in any solar cycle and as you might have guessed the solar minimum is the lowest number of sunspots. Bright active regions also appear in the Sun’s atmosphere. These active regions can produce solar flares or coronal mass injections and are therefore tracked.
The most recent solar minimum occurred in 2008 and a flare was produced in 2010 that was 10 times less powerful than the largest flares. The largest layers are called X-class and the one that was produced in 2010 was called an M-class flare. The Sun is continuing to get more active and the next solar maximum is predicted to be in 2013. The most recent solar minimum was in 2008
Images of the Sun show a journey towards solar maximum by the difference between pictures from now and in 2010.
The above picture shows a calm Sun in 2010 and on the right side in 2012 the picture shows a much more active and varying solar atmosphere as the sun gets closer to solar maximum.