Evidence is mounting: the next solar cycle is going to be a big one. Solar cycle 24, due to peak in 2010 or 2011 “looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago,” says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center. He and colleague Robert Wilson presented this conclusion last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Right: An erupting solar prominence photographed by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

Their forecast is based on historical records of geomagnetic storms.

There was a huge solar flare in 1859. It was so large that it could be seen with the naked eye. In 1989, a solar storm wiped out Canada’s northern electric grid. Canada was out of power for almost three days. Violent magnetic emissions from the sun could one day destroy all electronic equipment on earth. An Indian scientist from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research has helped NASA predict when such explosions are likely to happen.

“The activity of the sun affects satellites, air traffic on polar routes, telecommunications. So there is a huge industry in trying to develop forecasting capabilities,” said Dibyendu Nandi of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.