The Sun is Dead. Long Live the Sun?

MaxPower August 29th, 2008

Since I read this article in June, I have been keeping up with the increasingly important sunspot spotting event happening globally. The picture above shows the sun at its most active in 2001, potentially the most active period for sunspots in the past 1000 years.

Dark spots, some as large as 50,000 miles in diameter, typically move across the surface of the sun, contracting and expanding as they go. These strange and powerful phenomena are known as sunspots, but now they are all gone.

Although periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, this current period has gone on much longer than usual and scientists are starting to worry (June 08)—at least a little bit.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. But so far nothing is happening. “It’s a dead face,” Tsuneta said of the sun’s appearance.

In the past, they observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700.

That time is called the Maunder Minimum where there was only 50 observed sunspots when you’d expect to see 40,000 – 50,000. It also corresponded to a period of extremely low cosmic radiation hitting earth which impacts temperatures.

Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become an astronaut with NASA, said pictures from the US Solar and Heliospheric Observatory also show that there are currently no spots on the sun. He also noted that the world cooled quickly between January last year and January this year, by about 0.7C.

“This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930,” Dr Chapman noted in The Australian recently.

Fast forward from June 08 to today. The solar cycle has started, but it hasn’t started conclusively that’s for sure. The sun is still dead. It started off with one or two small spots however scientists are split between whether they are the start of a new solar cycle or left overs from the previous record breaking cycle. This cycle is between the 3rd and 12th slowest recorded solar cycle ever. This is going against NASA’s and NOAA’s 2006/07 Predictions for an extremely active solar cycle.

But as you can see here – the sun is very very quiet. What does that mean? Opinions vary from nothing to the coldest period since the 1600’s, stay tuned.

  • Weird… I had never heard of that until now..

    Crazy that the temp dropped so quickly as well.

    Lastly.. How does one actually look at the damn’d sun! ;)

  • > How does one actually look at the damn’d sun!

    the same way hedgehogs try to have some fun…very carefully!!!

    Thank you MaxPower for the link. As a matter of fact, during the Maunder Minimum the “cosmic radiation hitting Earth” would have been higher than now, exactly because there would be less shielding activity by the Sun. Some people say that radiation would have increased cloud cover, and we all know cloudy days are cooler than sunny ones. Well, I am simplifying it a bit there…

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