Lately, though, things on the sun have been quiet…too quiet.
According to three different studies released yesterday, experts think the usual sunspot cycle may be shutting down and heading toward a pattern of inactivity that hasn’t been witnessed since the 17th century.
The indicators include a missing jet stream, fading sunspots, and slower activity near the poles, say experts at the National Solar Observatory and Air Force Research Laboratory.
“This is highly unusual and unexpected,” says Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network.
The findings from the three studies were presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society‘s Solar Physics Division in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“The fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation,” Hill added.
Solar activity on our sun usually rises and falls every 11 years, more or less. Each solar maximum and solar minimum marks about half the interval of the magnetic pole reversal on the Sun, an event that occurs every 22 years.
Hill says the cycle we’re in right now, number 24, “may be the last normal one for some time and the next one, cycle 25, may not happen for some time.
“This is important because the solar cycle causes space weather which affects modern technology and may contribute to climate change,” he told reporters.
Experts are now trying to determine if this inactive period could represent a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period when hardly any sunspots were observed between 1645-1715…a period that’s been dubbed the “Little Ice Age.”
“If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate,” said Hill.