Don’t stare into the sun. It’ll burn your eyes out, kid. Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch of a reference, but, seriously, don’t. Let the professionals do it with (properly shielded) telescopes and such. This piece from the New York Times looks at a solar flare from 2012 and shows how quickly it developed. The bottom of the piece then shows the reader the frequency of solar minimums and maximums along with some explanatory graphics about just what flares and sunspots are and how they are created.
Also note the centre panel in the top row for the relative size of Earth. Yeah, who’s feeling big now? (Not me.)
Someday humanity will find a planet amongst the stars similar in temperament to Earth. One of the best star systems to explore is Gliese 581, a small and faint star some 20 light years away. Calculations show that there are a few planets that could exist in or near what is often called the Goldilocks Zone. The Goldilocks Zone describes the distance from the systems’ star where planets could exist with liquid water. But generally, one needs to take that with a grain of salt. Here in the Sol System, for example, Earth is joined by Venus and Mars. But neither of those planets appear capable of sustaining life at least at present.
The problem with Gliese 581 is that we are not yet certain as to exactly how many exoplanets form the planetary system. It might be four; it might be five. The different schools of thought lead to different conclusions about the possibility of there being liquid water. And life as we know it requires water. The New York Times looked at Gliese 581 earlier this summer and compared the two different orbital models.