Scientists say that the next solar cycle of activity is close-by; read Backward Sunspot at NASA to check out the sunspot that may be starting the whole process.
In the meantime, this large sunspot, named Active Region 904, has been sputtering on for days on end. After watching it rotate into view on Aug. 9, it finally popped off a modest (C-class) flare and associated coronal mass ejection (CME) on Aug. 17 when it had rotated into a location where it practically faced Earth. Solar flares and CMEs -- associated giant clouds of plasma in space -- are the largest explosions in the solar system and can pack the force of a billion megaton nuclear bombs. They are caused by the buildup and sudden release of magnetic stress in the solar atmosphere above the giant magnetic poles we see as sunspots.