While we on Earth suffer from coronavirus, our starthe Sunis having a lockdown all of its own. Spaceweather.com reports that already there have been 100 days in 2020 when our Sun has displayed zero sunspots.

That makes 2020 the second consecutive year of a record-setting low number of sunspots which you can see (a complete absence of) here.

Note: never look at the Sun with the naked eye or through binoculars or a telescope that arent fitted with solar filters.

So are we in an eternal sunshine of the spotless kind?

This is a sign that solar minimum is underway, reads SpaceWeather.com. So far this year, the Sun has been blank 76% of the time, a rate surpassed only once before in the Space Age. Last year, 2019, the Sun was blank 77% of the time. Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep solar minimum, indeed.

What does all of this mean? Heres everything you need to know about the Sun, the solar cycle, and what a deep solar minimum means for us.

What is a sunspot?

Its an area of intense magnetic activity on the surface of the Suna stormthat appears as an area of darkness. Sunspots are indicative of solar activity, birthing solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Although sunspots seem like tiny specks, they can be colossal in size.

Sunspots have been continuously counted each day since 1838, which has allowed solar scientists to describe a repeating pattern in the wax and wane of activity on the Suns surfacethe solar cycle.

What is the solar cycle?

The Sun has a cycle that lasts between nine and 14 yearstypically 11 years, on averageand right now were in the trough. At the peak of that cyclecalled solar maximumthe Sun produces more electrons and protons as huge solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

From a visual perspective, the solar cycle is a sunspot cycle since solar scientists can gauge where the Sun is in its cycle by counting sunspots on its surface.



How does the solar cycle affect Earth?

While theres some evidence that the solar cycle affects Earths weather and climate, the status of the Sun has the most obvious effect on the intensity and frequency of aurora. The more charged-up the solar wind headed towards Earth, the brighter and more frequent are the displays of Northern Lights and Southern Lights. Whats known as the auroral oval gets larger, too, so people who live in areas that normally dont experience aurorasuch as the USA and Western Europesometimes get to see them.

Either way, a solar maximum is historically when aurora are at their most frequent and spectacular.

What is solar minimum?

Just as solar maximum sees many sunspots, the trough of solar minimum features zero sunspotsand thats whats going on now. However, its been continuing rather longer than expected, which means the Sun is in the midst of a particularly deep solar minimum. The most infamous happened between 1645 to 1715 when a Maunder Minimum saw a prolonged sunspot minimum when sunspots were very rare for an extended period.

The current record-breaking solar minimum is part of a longer pattern of wax and wane; in fact, its believed that the Sun may have been in a magnetic lull for the last 9,000 years at least.

When is the next solar maximum?

Its thought that the Sun will reach solar maximum in the mid-2020s, though exactly when sunspot frequency will peak is anyones guess. Its something that can usually only be described in retrospect. The last solar maximum was in 2013/2014, but was was ranked among the weakest on record.

Once way to gauge whats going on visually is by counting sunspotsand the other is by looking at the Suns mighty corona during a total solar eclipse.

Luckily, theres one coming up in North America right on cue.

More: Forbes