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Longest recorded streak of sunspot inactivity broken

The Sun reminding us of how irregular it really is

Via Slashdot comes the report that The Sun has broken a 95 year old record. Quoting the Daily Tech:

Spotless Sun

The sun has reached a milestone not seen for nearly 100 years: an entire month has passed without a single visible sunspot being noted.

The event is significant as many climatologists now believe solar magnetic activity – which determines the number of sunspots — is an influencing factor for climate on earth.

Read the whole thing to get a bonus story of the scientists who predicted this, but were prevented from publishing their theory’s predictions by the peer review process, but to me the important story here is the sunspot cycle.

Scientists have been watching the Sun and recording sunspots for about 400 years. For the first 30 years of measurements, the Sun was as active as it normally is, but abruptly, activity died way down. For the whole second half of the 17th century there were hardly any sunspots recorded, a period known as the Maunder minimum. Eventually activity did pick back up, getting back to what appears to be a ‘normal’ pattern by about 1725.

The Sun’s magnetism appears to run on cycles within cycles within cycles. Every 10 years or so there is a very short period cycle, with spots going high and low, high and low. Right now we are at the trough of one of those, with the Sun having zeroed out in fact. However the highs and lows aren’t the same. Sometimes they go higher, as they have for the period of about 1940-1990. Sometimes they go lower, too, as they did during the Dalton Minimum of about 1790-1820. And apparently, as we saw during the Maunder Minimum, sometimes the sun almost shuts down its magnetic activity completely.

Is the Sun’s magnetism about to shut down again, threatening us with the kinds of cold winters that battered the Pilgrims? Is it coincidental that as recorded temperatures have gone up, solar activity has also risen? Possibly. Only time will tell if the theories regarding Solar radiation and cloud formation will bear fruit.

But until we know, we must keep watching, and avoid doing anything rash. If a new mini ice age approached, it may yet turn out that dumping carbon dioxide into the air and getting a greenhouse effect may be the only thing that can prevent widespread famine.

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