Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

The Sun during solar maximum (left, April 2014) and a quiet Sun during solar minimum (right, Dec. 2019). Photo: NASA/SDO

The next solar cycle has begun and forecasters are predicting that it's going to be a calm one.

Why it matters: Powerful solar flares shot off by our nearest star can damage satellites in space and even impact power grids on Earth.

  • A more calm solar cycle with fewer extreme flares directed toward our planet would be good news for missions to space as well as all of us on Earth.

State of play: Last week, officials from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared that the previous 11-year solar cycle ended in December 2019 when the Sun was at solar minimum — the point in its cycle with the least activity.

  • Now, the star's activity is amping up again, heading toward solar maximum, expected in 2025.
  • Forecasters are predicting this solar cycle will be similar to the last, which was marked by below-average activity, according to NASA.

How it works: Scientists track and predict a solar cycle based, in part, on the number of sunspots — dark, transient blotches on the Sun's face that shoot out flares — that appear on the star at any given time.

  • “We keep a detailed record of the few tiny sunspots that mark the onset and rise of the new cycle,” Frédéric Clette, one of the forecasters, said in a NASA statement. “These are the diminutive heralds of future giant solar fireworks. It is only by tracking the general trend over many months that we can determine the tipping point between two cycles.”
  • Satellites in space also keep a close eye on the Sun, allowing NOAA and NASA to track flares and predict when they might impact our planet.

Yes, but: Just because forecasters are predicting a more calm than usual solar cycle doesn't mean we should get complacent.

  • Even during solar cycles with little activity, the star can still surprise us, by shooting off powerful flares, so experts say governments need to be prepared, with plans in place to protect satellites and people in orbit as well as power grids on the ground.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to understand the Sun more fully, to the point where they might be able to predict space weather from day to day.

Go deeper: Our violent Sun

Go deeper

How NASA and the Space Force might fare under Biden

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden hasn't gone out of his way to talk about outer space during his presidential campaign. That could be bad news for NASA's exploration ambitions, but good news for the Space Force.

The big picture: NASA faces two threats with any new administration: policy whiplash and budget cuts. In a potential Biden administration, the space agency could get to stay the course on the policy front, while competing with other priorities on the spending side.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jun 2, 2020 - Science

NASA passes the torch

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the historic crewed SpaceX launch last weekend, NASA passed the torch to private companies that will need to step up to build the economy the space agency envisions in orbit.

Why it matters: This new era of spaceflight will likely be marked by new conflicts — possibly including product placement (like the Tesla that drove the astronauts to the pad on Saturday), safety concerns and cultural differences between companies, the space agencies and people they serve.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Oct 20, 2020 - Science

The next environmental crisis could be in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An unexpected frontier is facing calls for new environmental regulations and cleanup: outer space.

Why it matters: Space junk clutters up orbits and poses an urgent threat to weather, security, communications and other satellites. Long-term, you can’t live or work in space if trash is literally slamming into you.