This is the sort of image an astronomer or radio amateur might not normally get excited about. However, given the extended low sunspot period we've been experiencing, any sign of sunspot activity is now causing delirious excitement. (Image: Spaceweather.com)
You might have to click the image to view a larger version in order to actually see the sunspots. They are rather small!
Seeing such small sunspots is the equivalent of getting four numbers in the Lotto. You know you can feel good, but you might not jump around the place screaming in celebration.
The sunspot groups numbered 1032 and 1033 are members of the new cycle, just beginning, which shall be known as Solar Cycle 24. Most of this year there have been no sunspots. In October, a large sunspot group caused great excitement when it emitted a number of B Class solar flares and might have helped increase propagation at times on the amateur bands.
The sunspot cycle comes and goes, with a period of 11 years. We should have expected a considerable uplift in the number of sunspots in 2009, but instead we have been in a prolonged low period of zero sunspots. The longest low period of recent times was in 1913, and this one was beginning to look like it might go on forever.
Radiation emitted from the sun, from outbursts associated with sunspots, ionises the upper atmosphere, aiding radio propagation. So radio amateurs, stand by your sets and get ready for the lift. OK, don't get too excited. These are small sunspots, capable of producing very small B class flares, so let's not get carried away just yet.
However, any sign of sunspots, big or small, is surely a good sign. The sun is beginning to kick into life at last, having been free of spots for most of 2008 and 2009. If you gave up HF in the past two years, now might be the time to buy a radio, because if the propagation lifts, a rig will inevitably cost more!!
Here is a very interesting website by an amateur (VE3EN) all about Solar Cycle 24: http://solarcycle24.com/