Where Went the Sun? Solar Cycles

Where Went the Sun? Solar Cycles

We are at the end of an 11 year cycle that was supposed to produce significant solar activity.  Instead, it's the least active we have seen in 4 centuries.  What are the implications?

Sunspot TRACE


What is a Solar Cycle?

Our sun goes through something called a "solar cycle."  Every eleven years, like clockwork, the sun demonstrates significant activity in terms of solar flares and sunspots... until now.  The pattern has many astronomers puzzled. 

Sunspot magnetic fields are dropping. If we extrapolate this trend into the future, sunspots could completely vanish around the year 2015.

Solar Cycle Prediction


So what are the implications?  

Some alarmists seem to think it could be the beginning of a little ice-age that occurred in the 17th century across Northern Europe. 

According to Mike Lockwood at the University Of Reading, UK who has studied records covering data stretching back to 1650, he found that severe European winters are much more likely during periods of low solar activity (New Scientist, 17 April, p 6).

Lockwood continues, "Another example is the Maunder minimum, the period from 1645 to 1715 during which sunspots virtually disappeared and solar activity plummeted ... ushering in a period known as the Little Ice Age."

Hmm, this is starting to sound a bit ominous.   NASA sunspot expert David Hathaway says, “It’s controversial stuff.  If sunspots do go away, it wouldn’t be the first time. In the 17th century, the sun plunged into a 70-year period of spotlessness known as the Maunder Minimum 
that still baffles scientists. The sunspot drought began in 1645 and lasted until 1715; during that time, some of the best astronomers in history (e.g., Cassini) monitored the sun and failed to count more than a few dozen sunspots per year, compared to 
the usual thousands."

There's that Maunder Minimum again. 

Sunspot Numbers

This figure was prepared by Robert A. Rohde and is part of the Global Warming Art project.

But there is hope.  The cycle could continue or global warming could counteract the effects of a "Little Ice-Age."  

Curiously, in this solar-cycle, the sun's magnetic poles are out of sync, solar scientists said. The sun's north magnetic pole reversed polarity more than a year ago, so it now has the same polarity as the south pole.  That's not encouraging.   But Mark Miesch at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado is not alarmed.

"More than half of solar physicists would say we are returning to a norm. we might be in for a longer state of suppressed activity.   If so, the decline in magnetic activity could ease global warming,  but such a subtle change in the sun—lowering its luminosity by about 0.1%—wouldn't be enough to outweigh the build-up of greenhouse gases and soot that most researchers consider the main cause of rising world temperatures over the past century or so."

So there you have it.  The sun is demonstrating some new and surprising behaviours and it's not going to be the end of the world as we know it... we hope.

Over time the Sun will get hotter though. Take a look at what will happen to us when the Sun becomes hotter and brighter.

Find more on: Astronomy Science and News

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