Shhh … the sun is sleeping. Or maybe it’s just micronapping. Regardless, scientists say our favorite star is going through an unusual silent spell.
While NASA quickly points out that we shouldn’t be expecting a mini Ice Age, the space agency notes that the sun has been generating less power for the past year or so. Sunspots have also decreased. Those are the dark circles of cooler temperatures that spring from the atmosphere, usually as a result of fluctuations in the sun’s magnetic field.
They are also a good marker of how our star can be at any given time. And these days, he seems to have taken a weird turn for the silent, latent guy.
But if the sun gets cold, by extension, shouldn’t we be too? In fact, the last time the Earth underwent chronic cooling was in the late 17th century, when the planet’s northern hemisphere fell into a Little Ice Age, and temperatures dropped by around 2 degrees Celsius. It lasted until 1715 and coincided with a prolonged solar dream.
Another ice age?
Fortunately, scientists suspect that the sun is taking more than one mini vacation. In fact, our star follows a fairly predictable schedule, alternating cycles of high and low activity approximately every 11 years. During an intense cycle, the sun is all boastful: coronal mass ejections, solar flares and many of those aforementioned sunspots.
But the sun, scientists say, has just emerged from its 24th recorded cycle – a long lethargic stretch called the solar minimum.
“There has been a steady decline,” astrophysicist David Hathaway told CBC News. “I’m pretty sure looking at our own predictions and the predictions of others, that cycle 25 is going to be another little cycle.”
But there is a possibility, if the sun is not animating during what is supposed to be an active cycle, then we may experience a “great solar minimum,” reports LiveScience. Basically, the sun could press the repeat button for decades, if not centuries. That would not only result in fewer sunspots, but also less UV radiation reaching Earth.
That time when the king’s beard turned to ice …
A drop of a couple of degrees may not seem like much, but consider the downright mysterious events of the last Little Ice Age.
“The birds froze and fell from the sky; men and women died of hypothermia; the King of France’s beard froze in his sleep, ”writes John Lanchester in the New Yorker.
Still, if the sun really decides to stay in bed a little longer this time, it’s probably not as cold here as last time. Mainly, because things have changed a lot here on Earth since the last nap of the sun.
“The warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human burning of fossil fuels is six times greater than the possible cooling for decades by a prolonged Great Solar Minimum,” NASA notes on its blog. “Even if a Great Solar Minimum were to last century, global temperatures would continue to heat up. Because more factors than just variations in the Sun’s production change global temperatures on Earth, the most dominant of which is warming today. from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. “
Our sun is a very cold star
The thing is, our home star has always been a bit of a lazy heavenly. In a recent study, astronomers compared the brightness of our sun over time with data collected from other stars. They found that most stars that look like ours are much more volatile. And for the past 9,000 years, they point out, our sun has been particularly calm.
“These stars are similar in every way we can measure the sun, but many of them show variability up to five times greater than the sun, which was surprising,” co-author of the Timo Reinhold study at the Max Planck Institute for Research. from the Solar System told New Scientist. “A possible conclusion would be that there is an as yet unidentified quality of these stars that we don’t know to be different from the sun.”
Just keep in mind that “silence” is relative when we talk about a plasma ball that is constantly groaning. As a heliophysicist said: “Imagine 10,000 Earths covered in police sirens, all screaming.”
Now, that is the ordinary orb that we all know and love.