Sun Spot Cycles

Recently, the sun has been in a bit of a funk. It is having some trouble producing sunspots; indicators of solar activity. Normally the sun operates on 11 year cycles, called solar cycles. The 23rd cycle ended in 2008 so naturally that was a quiet year for sunspots. NASA scientists predicted 2009 to be a “doozy,” but the spots never came. Fast forward to mid-2010 and all bets are off. In the age of man observing and recording sun activity, this lack of solar activity is quite the anomaly.

Surprisingly enough, this has happened before. In the middle ages the Sun experienced a time of solar quietude known as the Maunder Minimum. The Maunder Minimum is an example of a phenomenon called a Grand Minima. The Sun enters these periods at seemingly random times. Could it be that the Sun is currently entering another Grand Minima?

One resemblance is striking. Leading up to the Maunder Minimum was a flurry of solar activity. The 20th Century was the most active period of time ever observed. The activity peaked in the early 1990’s.

If the Sun is entering a Grand Minimum, what effect might it have on us humans? Graphs show that Earth’s climate closely correlates with solar activity. During the Maunder Minimum the Earth went through a period colloquially known as “the Little Ice Age.” The global climate (at least Europe and North America) was notably colder than average. Indeed, the Little Ice Age was preceded by “the Mediaeval Warm Period, which coincided with the increased solar activity.

The global mean temperature in recent years plateaued in the late 1990’s and has been in slight decline since, on par with solar activity. Will solar cycle 24 finally boom or continue to bust? I’ll continue to reach for my sweater in the meantime, as Victoria weather has not yet hit 20 C and it is almost July.

Drawing a conclusion from this information, it seems that this phenomena may or may not line up with the anticipatory events in 2012. In fact, we even have NASA telling us about the strange solar activity that they are predicting for 2012.

With this news coming into play as well as Barack Obama’s presidential term coming to a close, the Global Recession, and the anomie of the general public, 2012 might be a real “doozy” of a year.

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