The Sun has lost its spots – part 4.

I check the status of solar activity and sunspots regularly – usually once a day, just a quick check, along with several other things I’m interested in.

I’ve also had a few related blog posts:

The sun isn’t as completely spotless as it was a year ago, but spotless days are still occurring – and, according to a new study discussed in Science, sunspots may soon disappear for decades.

Say Goodbye to Sunspots? by Phil Beradelli, September 14, 2010, ScienceNOW, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Scientists studying sunspots for the past 2 decades have concluded that the magnetic field that triggers their formation has been steadily declining. If the current trend continues, by 2016 the sun’s face may become spotless and remain that way for decades—a phenomenon that in the 17th century coincided with a prolonged period of cooling on Earth. (Say Goodbye to Sunspots? by Phil Beradelli, September 14, 2010, ScienceNOW)

Financial Post - Lawrence Solomon: Chilling evidence

The study is also discussed in a Financial Post article by Lawrence Solomon:

We are now in the onset of that next sunspot cycle, called Cycle 24 – these cycles typically last 11 years — and Livingston and Penn have this month published new, potentially ominous findings in a paper entitled Long-term Evolution of Sunspot Magnetic Fields: “we are now seeing far fewer sunspots than we saw in the preceding cycle; solar Cycle 24 is producing an anomalously low number of dark spots and pores,” they report.

Their conclusions have potential “dramatic implications.” Cycle 24 could have just half the number of sunspots as the recently completed Cycle 23, and there could be “virtually no sunspots in Cycle 25.” The implications of their research points to decades of spotlessness. (Chilling Evidence, by Lawrence Solomon, September 16, 2010, Finanacial Post)

If this study proves out – and it is consistent with other studies and indicators – we are likely faced with declining global temperatures rather than global warming.

And that would not be good – far more people suffer and die as a result of cold than of heat.  Extended periods of cold would have an adverse affect on crops. Frigid winters and cold summers during the Dalton Minimum, which lasted from about 1790 to 1830, resulted in massive crop failures, famine and death.  The Maunder Minimum, also known as the Little Ice Age, lasted for about 70 years, from about 1645 to 1715, and “was marked by bitter cold, widespread crop failures, and severe human privation.”¹ The Dalton and Maunder Minimum were periods of low solar activity and low sunspot count.

The sun has not fully escaped the solar minimum between solar cycles 23 and 24.  A typical solar minimum will see 486 days without sunspots.  Since 2004, there has been 809 blank days, 41 so far in 2010, and the most recent just in the past week.  If scientists were to use the telescopes of the Dalton or Maunder Minimum, the number of blank days would likely be quite a bit higher and many of the recent sunspots would not have been counted.

What do you think about the possibility of a colder future?

Of course, some may say that for long term forecasting, one would have just as much fortune depending upon the Old Farmer’s Almanac.  Ironically, though, sunspots are taken into consideration in the Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasts.

We employ three scientific disciplines to make our long-range predictions: solar science, the study of sunspots and other solar activity; climatology, the study of prevailing weather patterns; and meteorology, the study of the atmosphere. We predict weather trends and events by comparing solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity.

¹ from a 2008 Livingston and Penn paper

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