During a powerful solar blast in March, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the highest-energy light ever associated with an eruption on the sun. The discovery heralds Fermi's new role as a solar observatory, a powerful new tool for understanding solar outbursts during the sun's maximum period of activity. "For most of Fermi's four years in orbit, its Large Area Telescope (LAT) saw the sun as a faint, steady gamma-ray source thanks to the impacts of high-speed particles called cosmic rays," said Nicola Omodei, an astrophysicist at Stanford University in California. "Now we're beginning to see what the sun itself can do."
Solar eruptions are now on the rise as the sun progresses toward the peak of its roughly 11-year-long activity cycle, now expected in mid-2013.