Still Waiting For Sunspots

| May 23, 2008


A quick check of space weather shows us that once again the face of the sun is blank – no sunspots. In the past few weeks we have had a few tiny sunspots show up that are part of the last sunspot cycle, but it seems we are still waiting for cycle 24 (the new cycle) to start up.

Now from the Arizona Daily Star’s astronomy section, this bit of news:

Many solar scientists expected the new sunspot cycle to be a whopper, a prolonged solar tantrum that could fry satellites and raise hell with earthly communications, the power grid and modern electronics. But there’s scant proof Sunspot Cycle 24 is even here, let alone the debut of big trouble. So far there have been just a couple minor zits on the face of the sun to suggest the old cycle is over and the new one is coming.

The roughly 11-year cycle of sunspot activity should have bottomed out last year, the end of Cycle 23 and the beginning of Cycle 24. That would have put the peak in new sunspot activity around 2012.
But a dud sunspot cycle would not necessarily make it a boring period, especially for two solar scientists with the Tucson-based National Solar Observatory.

Two years ago, William Livingston and Matt Penn wrote a paper for the journal Science predicting that this could not only be a dud sunspot cycle, but the start of another extended down period in solar activity. It was based on their analysis of weakening sunspot intensity and said sunspots might vanish by 2015.

And here’s the punch line: That last long-term down period, 1645-1715, coincided with the Little Ice Age, a period of bitter cold winters. That kind of talk could ruffle some feathers in this time of climate change and global warming, starring man-made carbon dioxide as the devil. The paper, rejected in peer review, was never published by Science. Livingston said he’s OK with the rejection.

To sum up – our sun is not operating on the “consensus” plan. In fact the consensus (as I reported earlier) was that cycle 24 would be the strongest one we have seen in quite a while. Instead we are off to a very weak start. Furthermore a scientist team who went against the consensus orthodoxy and tried to publish their work were shut down because they flew in the face of what everyone accepted.

I would like to point out that things like plate tectonics (the foundation of modern geology), the cause of stomach ulcers being bacteria, the notion that the earth orbited the sun, and a host of others all went against the “consensus view” and went on to change the way we understand nature.

There is a very real possibility that our local star is heading into a quiet period that will see greatly reduced solar output. Net result could be a prolonged cold period, just at the time when we are trying to mobilize humanity to fight an anticipated warming trend. As published at the Goddard Space Flight Center:

A new NASA computer climate model reinforces the long-standing theory that low solar activity could have changed the atmospheric circulation in the Northern Hemisphere from the 1400s to the 1700s and triggered a “Little Ice Age” in several regions including North America and Europe. Changes in the sun’s energy was one of the biggest factors influencing climate change during this period, but have since been superceded by greenhouse gases due to the industrial revolution.

They determined that a dimmer Sun reduced the model’s westerly winds, cooling the continents during wintertime. Shindell’s model shows large regional climate changes, unlike other climate models that show relatively small temperature changes on an overall global scale. Other models did not assess regional changes.

[Update] For a fantastic write up for an actual scientist (instead of an eccentric crackpot like me) go read “Sunspot cycle more dud than radiation flood” at the excellent Watts Up With That?

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Category: Main, Science, Space

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

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