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If you've ever stood in front of a hot stove, watching a pot of water and waiting impatiently for it to boil, you know what it feels like to be a solar physicist.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded this X1.5-class solar flare on March 9, 2011. [movie]

Back in 2008, the solar cycle plunged into the deepest minimum in nearly a century. Sunspots all but vanished, solar flares subsided, and the sun was eerily quiet.

"Ever since, we've been waiting for solar activity to pick up," says Richard Fisher, head of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. "It's been three long years."

Quiet spells on the sun are nothing new. They come along every 11 years or so—it's a natural part of the solar cycle. This particular solar minimum, however, was lasting longer than usual, prompting some researchers to wonder if it would ever end.

News flash: The pot is starting to boil. "Finally," says Fisher, "we are beginning to see some action."

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Category: Science