The Sun has always been a source of warmth, comfort and light. But we're discovering a new and frightening side to our star. A kind of solar rage peaks every eleven years. And sometimes, Earth is in the line of fire. It's a billion pounds of matter traveling at a million miles an hour - a solar blast - which could send us scrambling. Without warning, navigation systems could be disrupted, blinding jets in the sky. Phone connections around the world could go dead, leaving us stranded during emergencies. And within minutes of impact, a power blackout could leave millions of people in the dark.
But a solar blast is only a thunderstorm compared to the hurricane of what the sun might do to us. It so dominates our planet in size and power that a change of just one percent in long-term solar output could dramatically affect life on earth in ways that are suspected to have shaken our climate in the past, like a long cold spell which began in the 1600s. At that time, ice skaters raced on Dutch canals that had never been frozen - and haven't been since. From 1645 to 1715, astronomers happened to note an absence of sunspots, over the course of six solar cycles. Was this solar anomaly somehow the cause of a miniature Ice Age? Today, we know that the Sun's brightness varies over its 11-year sunspot cycle. When spots are at a minimum, the sun is dimmer by one part in a thousand. At Solar Max, a brighter sun seems likely to warm our planet... yet Earth's reaction is so complex, we still don't fully understand it.