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Jul 16, 2013 9:43 AM by Stephen Bowers

Sunspot cycle at its weakest peak in a century

Sunspots on the sun... 

From Earth, they appear as small dark spots and will occasionally hurl mass from the sun into space.

The number of sunspots on the sun can fluctuate greatly, but over a period of 11 years they tend to increase over time. After that 11-year period, sunspots drop off in number and begin their cycle again.

As it turns out 2013 is the 11-year sunspot cycle's peak. This year's maximum, however, comes with the fewest number of sunspots in about 100 years. 

Space.com says scientists are using this weak sunspot maximum period to test their own knowledge of the sun and predict future sunspot cycles. 

Magnetic elements flow in a north-south pathway to the sun's poles. Eventually, the magnetic fields build at the poles until they flip around the time of the sunspot peak. Researchers have discovered that when that flip occurs in the magnet field of the sun's poles, the strength of the field can influence the next sunspot cycle.

Space.com says there were also weak sunspot cycles at the beginning of the 19th and 20th centuries, though they are not sure why. 

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