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Solar physicists may have discovered why the Sun recently experienced a prolonged period of weak activity. The most recent so-called "solar minimum" occurred in December 2008. Its drawn-out nature extended the total length of the last solar cycle - the repeating cycle of the Sun's activity - to 12.6 years, making it the longest in almost 200 years. During a solar minimum the Sun is less active, producing fewer sunspots and flares.
During the 23rd cycle, these currents of fire extended all the way to the poles, while in earlier cycles they only extended about two thirds of the way.