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Sep 17 2013

Solar activity perplexes astronomers

The sun regularly reverses its magnetic field every 10 to 12 years giving rise to what astronomers call the solar cycle. It appeared to be on track to do this right on time, and around now, when something peculiar happened. Activity disappeared:

Space Weather — NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 1% chance of M- or X-class solar flares during the next 24-48 hours. If the forecast holds, the sun will continue a spate of deep quiet that has lasted for more than a week, nearly-flatlining the sun’s x-ray output.

The quiet spell is a bit strange because 2013 is supposed to be a year of solar maximum, with lots of flares and sunspots. Supporting this view are data from NASA-supported observatories which show that the sun’s magnetic field is poised to flip–a long-held sign that Solar Max has arrived. Nevertheless, solar activity is low.

One possible explanation is that Solar Max is double-peaked and we are in the valley between peaks. If so, solar activity could surge again in late 2013-2014. No one can say for sure, though. Researchers have been studying sunspots for more than 400 years, and we still cannot predict the behavior of the solar cycle. Continued quiet or stormy space weather? Both are possible in the weeks and months ahead.

Weather is chaotic, on Earth as it is Heaven, and that includes the sun. But there could also be longer term cycles we have little knowledge of as we’ve only been watching closely with large telescopes for a could of hundred years at best. Odds are this is just a normal glitch, despite what managers and other interests would like to believe, data distributes itself unevenly whether it’s solar activity or lottery results.

But there is also some speculation, backed by what sparse observational evidence existed centuries ago, that the sun may occasionally experience quiet weather for up to several decades at a stretch. These pauses in solar activity could theoretically affect weather and, ultimately, climate here on Earth. A more active sun is a slightly hotter one and vice-versa, that pattern shows up in everything from global temps to tropical cyclones. It would certainly be a welcome drop given the fact of climate change, but betting on weird solar weather is a long shot and fraught with peril of Biblical proportion.

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  1. 1
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Fascinating issue – shared. Cheers DarkSyde.

  2. 2
    Alex

    My worry is that the solar cycle might give us a few decades of halting global warming, in which not only the deniers will gain traction because there will be zero political will to do anything against AGW. Also, fossil fuel burning will go on at even higher rate due to the cool temperatures in the northern hemisphere – and then when the solar activity picks up again – booom, we’re toast.

  3. 3
    Trebuchet

    Clearly this is caused by aliens/lizards/Planet X and is being covered up by NASA/Obama/the Illuminati.

  4. 4
    Samantha Vimes

    A quiet spell has happened before, even in the little time we’ve been tracking it. It would be interesting to see if it repeats the same time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_Minimum

    I’m not sure if a pause in global warming would be bad because of weakening the argument, or good, because it would buy us time to do new technology.

  1. 5
    Solar activity perplexes astronomers » The Zingularity | Solar Flare 2012

    […] Solar activity perplexes astronomers » The Zingularity […]

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