Solar activity rises and falls with an 11-year cycle that affects us in many ways. Increased solar activity includes increases in extreme ultraviolet and x-ray emissions from the Sun which produce dramatic effects in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The associated atmospheric heating increases both the temperature and density of the atmosphere at many spacecraft altitudes. The increase in atmospheric drag on satellites in low Earth orbit can dramatically shorten the lifetime of these valuable assets (cf. Pulkkinen, 2007).
Increases in the number of solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) raise the likelihood that sensitive instruments in space will be damaged by energetic particles accelerated in these events. These solar energetic particles (SEPs) can also threaten the health of both astronauts in space and airline travelers in high altitude, polar routes.
Solar activity apparently affects terrestrial climate as well. Although the change in the total solar irradiance seems too small to produce significant climatic effects, there is good evidence that, to some extent, the Earth’s climate heats and cools as solar activity rises and falls (cf. Haigh, 2007).
There is little doubt that the solar cycle is magnetic in nature and produced by dynamo processes within the Sun. Here we examine the nature of the solar cycle and the characteristics that must be explained by any viable dynamo model (cf. Charbonneau, 2005).
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