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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.

DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.

Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.

Poll: Immigration is America's most-polarizing issue

Data: The American Aspirations Index/Populace; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Immigration was found to be the most polarizing issue in America based on new polling from Populace.

Why it matters: Americans have surprisingly similar priorities for the U.S., but immigration stands out as one of the few issues with clear partisan differences. It underscores the challenge for advocates and lawmakers hoping to pass immigration reform in the coming weeks amid narrow margins in Congress.