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Behold five and a half years worth of full-sun observations from XRT. A dramatic illustration of the solar cycle, this movie begins about one year before the first reversed-polarity sunspot ushered in the current cycle on January 8, 2008. The solar cycle is a periodic variation in the Sun's activity that is caused by the gradual "tangling" and eventual reversal of its magnetic field. Deep within the interior of our star, a process known as a dynamo produces the magnetic field, which is then embedded in the Sun's plasma. Because the equatorial regions rotate faster than the poles, the field slowly warps until loops of magnetic field lines rise and protrude from the surface (click here for a helpful animation). These protruding loops dramatically change the structure of the Sun's corona, giving rise to energetic events like flares and CMEs, and this is the change we see unfolding here. The movie ends less than a year from the predicted peak of the coming solar maximum in early to mid 2013, after which the polarity (positive and negative ends) of the Sun's magnetic field will have reversed and the number of active regions in the corona will begin to decrease again.
Keywords: Full Disk, Solar Cycle