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Photo: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/Joy Ng

The Sun unleashed a strong solar flare last week for the first time since 2017, potentially signaling that our nearest star's activity is ramping up after a long period of quiescence.

Why it matters: Strong solar flares can harm satellites and people in space, while the most extreme flares could take down Earth's electrical grids.

  • Tracking the Sun's 11-year solar cycle can help scientists learn more about why it behaves the way it does and possibly predict the star's activity.

Details: NASA probes in space caught sight of the M-class flare on May 29 as it shot out from a family of sunspots — dark, transient regions on the Sun — that should be rotating into view shortly.

  • The flare was relatively weak and therefore didn't trigger an alert from the Space Weather Prediction Center. Future flares from this family of sunspots, however, could be stronger.

What's next: Scientists will closely watch the Sun's activity in the coming weeks to see if the star is, in fact, coming out of its slumber and entering into a new period of activity.

  • The Sun's period of least activity — known as "solar minimum" — can only be seen in hindsight, after many months have passed.
  • "The sunspots may well be harbingers of the Sun's solar cycle ramping up and becoming more active," NASA said in a statement. "Or, they may not. It will be a few more months before we know for sure."

Go deeper: We're about to learn a lot more about the Sun

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 11, 2020 - Science

The Perseid meteor shower peaks this week

A perseid meteor in 2019. Photo: Bob Riha Jr./Getty Images

The Perseid meteor shower — one of the best cosmic shows of the year — hits its peak this week, and interested observers with dark skies around the world should be able to see it.

The state of play: The peak of the shower is expected to occur late tonight and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The best time to catch sight of some streaking meteors is right after the Sun sets until the Moon rises just after local midnight, according to Sky & Telescope.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker