Since May 2008, our Sun has had an extremely low number of sunspots. This activity has been covered a number of times. There have been other changes in the Sun as well, which you should know about. Here is a summary from Wikipedia:
- It is in the midst of an unusual sunspot minimum, lasting far longer and with a higher percentage of spotless days than normal; since May 2008.
- It is measurably dimming; its output has dropped 0.02% at visible wavelengths and 6% at EUV wavelengths in comparison with the levels at the last solar minimum.
- Over the last two decades, the solar wind’s speed has dropped by 3%, its temperature by 13%, and its density by 20%.
- Its magnetic field is at less than half strength compared to the minimum of 22 years ago. The entire heliosphere, which fills the Solar System, has shrunk as a result, resulting in an increase in the level of cosmic radiation striking the Earth and its atmosphere.
If you’re too lazy to read all of that, then here’s a nice picture and histogram from NASA which sums up the problem:
So, why do you care about all this nonsense? Well, there’s only three ways that this whole thing can play out.
- The sunspots slowly return, and hopefully the increase in greenhouse gases from climate change doesn’t cause too many problems as the heat returns. This isn’t so bad an option.
- The sunspots return in a burst of solar activity, causing a CME. This will result in mass destruction to our power grids and electronics, similar to what happened in the solar storm of 1859. This would suck, but I wouldn’t mind the lack of Justin Bieber baby news for a few months.
- The sunspot activity does not return, and we enter another Maunder Minimum. This would invariable lead to another global cool-down, and probably a small ice-age. If it persisted, it could possibly cause a bigger ice age. This would suck.
It will be an interesting few years.
[Update Nov 3rd, 5:30pm] It seems that one of the biggest sunspots on record has caused an X-class solar flare (the largest kind), along with a CME. Fortunately, it was not directed at earth. You can see the info about it here, and know that I got the information from spaceweather.com.