Sunspots

What do you do when dangerous sunspot activity threatens to blast electromagnetic waves into space, causing havoc for everything from satellite-based global positioning systems and complex computer controlled navigations rigs, to automated power grids, fibre optic communication networks and even household devices like your radio alarm clock or fridge? That's a question that we will soon need to find an answer for, as our sun enters its 'adolescent' phase.

"Most people will be familiar with the notion that stars have a 'lifecycle'," explained Dr Henry Symptom, deputy Head of Buckets at Jodrell Bank. "They age, they mature - very much as people do. When they're born they are noisy, messy and raucous. As they grow older they settle down, become more predictable and spend less time hanging around nightclubs, trying to pick up lady stars. Finally, in their old age they expand into bloated red giants - great, lumbering balls of gas - before collapsing in on themselves to become feeble, dense and casually racist white dwarves."

According to Dr Symptom, our star is about to enter the equivalent of its teenage years. And everyone knows how difficult teenagers can be - prone to unanticipated outbursts and sudden, intense eruptions.

"My niece Britney is just the same," Dr Symptom said. "Always flying off the handle at something or other. I don't know how her parents cope. The spoilt bitch. Anyway, the sun is very much like that. Moreover, like any other teenager, it's about to break out in spots. And I mean lots of spots. Oh, we've seen sunspots before, they're quite normal, but that's nothing compared to what we're about to experience. It will be a zit-astrophe."

Dr Symptom may not be exaggerating. Scientists don't know exactly what effect this increased activity will have upon the earth but there are serious concerns that it could impact many areas of life, such as air travel, weather patterns or even trigger volcanic activity. At the very least it will probably interfere with mobile communications."

"And we can't have that," said Dr Symptom. "My network's bad enough as it is. The only place I can get a signal is in my garage, which is no damn good because I can't hear anything over the noise of the boiler. That's why we need to start working on a solution now, when we can still hear ourselves think. Personally I believe some sort of cosmic acne cream is the answer. It seemed to work for Britney."

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