Rough weather on the sun. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Most of us are familiar with the National Weather Service, but the government also runs another weather service, called the Space Weather Prediction Center. Earlier this month, they spotted the first sunspot of the new eleven-year solar storm cycle—that’s when violent storms spew magnetic particles into space, many of them reaching earth. This cycle began a few months early, which usually means it will be especially violent. Solar storms can disrupt satellite data, phone service and even the electrical grid.
In other news, the MESSENGER spacecraft recently sped by the surface of the planet Mercury—the first step in placing the craft in orbit around the tiny planet. It’ll take three years and several loops around the sun to slow the craft down to the speed of a fighter plane. That’s slow enough for the little planet’s gravity to hold the spacecraft in orbit. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.