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The Vanishing Sunspot Mystery: What Does it Mean for Earth's Climate? -A Galaxy Insight

Sunspots_2Dark spots, some as large as 50,000 miles in diameter, typically move across the surface of the sun, contracting and expanding as they go. These strange and powerful phenomena are known as sunspots, but now they are all gone. Not even solar physicists know why it’s happening and what this odd solar silence might be indicating for our future. The last time this happened was 400 years ago -- and it signaled a solar event known as a "Maunder Minimum,"  along with the start of what we now call the "Little Ice Age."

Although periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, this current period has gone on much longer than usual and scientists are starting to worry—at least a little bit. Recently 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered to discuss the issue at an international solar conference at Montana State University. Today's sun is as inactive as it was two years ago, and solar physicists don’t have a clue as to why.

"It continues to be dead," said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission, noting that it is at least a little bit worrisome for scientists.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, said the sun usually operates on an 11-year cycle with maximum activity occurring in the middle of the cycle. The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. But so far nothing is happening.

"It's a dead face," Tsuneta said of the sun's appearance.

Tsuneta said solar physicists aren't weather forecasters and they can't predict the future. They do have the ability to observe, however, and they have observed a longer-than-normal period of solar inactivity. In the past, they observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period coincided with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700. Coincidence? Some scientists say it was, but many worry that it wasn’t.

Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian to become an astronaut with NASA, said pictures from the US Solar and Heliospheric Observatory also show that there are currently no spots on the sun. He also noted that the world cooled quickly between January last year and January this year, by about 0.7C.

"This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930," Dr Chapman noted in The Australian recently.

If the world does face another mini Ice Age, it could come without warning. Evidence for abrupt climate change is readily found in ice cores taken from Greenland and Antarctica. One of the best known examples of such an event is the Younger Dryas cooling, which occurred about 12,000 years ago, named after the arctic wildflower found in northern European sediments. This event began and ended rather abruptly, and for its entire 1000 year duration the North Atlantic region was about 5°C colder. Could something like this happen again? There’s no way to tell, and because the changes can happen all within one decade—we might not even see it coming.

The Younger Dryas occurred at a time when orbital forcing should have continued to drive climate to the present warm state. The unexplained phenomenon has been the topic of much intense scientific debate, as well as other millennial scale events.

Now this 11-year low in Sunspot activity has raised fears among a small but growing number of scientists that rather than getting warmer, the Earth could possibly be about to return to another cooling period. The idea is especially intriguing considering that most of the world is in preparation for global warming.

Canadian scientist Kenneth Tapping of the National Research Council has also noted that solar activity has entered into an unusually inactive phase, but what that means—if anything—is still anyone’s guess. Another solar scientist, Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, however, is certain that it’s an indication of a coming cooling period.

Sorokhtin believes that a lack of sunspots does indicate a coming cooling period based on certain past trends and early records. In fact, he calls manmade climate change "a drop in the bucket" compared to the fierce and abrupt cold that can potentially be brought on by inactive solar phases.

Sorokhtin’s advice: "Stock up on fur coats"…just in case.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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The “Little Ice Age” Argument Makes a Comeback: Abrupt Climate Change Goes Both Ways, Warns Scientist
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Ha, we need MORE CO2. You idiots driving around in those electric cars are going to freeze us all to death!

Well.. like many points in history we've a lot of unknowns.

Global Warming could be a saving grace in a declining temperate spot. And afterwards we may find we no longer have the oil resources to raise green house gases.

As for the submerged Methylhydrates offshore.. they could end up locked tight under ice.

All this points towards the Earth needs orbital defenses not just from errant asteroids and commetary debris, but something like a solar umbrellas that can be synched together to deflect more sunlight or spread appart to let more in.. not unlike the blinds on your window.. but spread far apart.

And to throw one more doomsday climate factor into the mix.. if the Earth Magnetic field keeps decreasing.. we ought to see about building a gigantic plasma bottle around the earth to capture some of the solar wind and build up a ring system capable of generating a magnetic shield against solaris and cosmic background radiation.

Adolescence sucks as a maturing species.. but Maturing responsibilty is a lot less forgiving if you don't plan for it.

RE: David

You're joking right?

Oops, we made a mistake, nevermind.....

People, PLEASE stop equating environmental responsibility with global warning. Its like you need some kind of mascot, other than the Earth itself, to rally behind when it comes to cleaning up the planet.

Its a given that oil and coal are filthy and substandard sources of energy that are polluting our planet, not just with CO2, but with many toxic byproducts as well. Whether we're headed for another ice age or not, people still want better water and air quality!

I can't understand the logic of someone who thinks that if the world isn't getting warmer (which it most likely is)then that means that we no longer need clean energy sources. That is stupid for two reasons A)Oil supplies will run out eventually anyway and B) oil-based fuel exhaust is extremely polluting to our planet RIGHT NOW aside from the CO2.

Lets not center the environmental movement around global warming. If we do, then every time the thermometer drops we'll have people thinking that the environment doesn't matter anymore.

Its OK for scientists too speculate that the world might get cooler, and this was an interesting article about that possibility. But that doesn't mean we environmentalists need to get bent out of shape--lets not base all of our arguments around GW, because that's just one part of all of the serious environmental issues we are facing like habitat destruction, mass biocide, rampant air and water pollution and so forth.

I just think it's funny that Gore, who is so worried about GW, lives in a house that expends more energy than 20 times the national norm. Is he really that worried?

George Bush's personal residence, on the other hand, is an ultra-low energy, totally "green" eco-home.

Is it just me, or is that weird?

Here's the snopes article in case you think I'm making this up.

Going along with Jon Smith above ... Why do we need apocalyptic news to get people's attention on science? I've been observing the sunspots for years over cycles 21-22-23 (not much time for it lately, unfortunately). We know the solar cycle is a mix of regularity (11 years magnetic inversion, give or take a few) and chaotic behaviour.
The 5 past cycles (19 to 23), roughly from 1950, have been particularly strong in terms of sunspot numbers, compared to the previous centuries. See
for graphics of solar activity. The current minimum is a bit deep, but there have been similar ones in the past three centuries. Before infering anything, monitor the beginning of cycle 24 and look at the figures provided at Rare sunspots at this time of the cycle is "normal", as are the news provided by the SIDC at I would rather stay tuned there, where serious science (gathering data, testing activity models and forecasts, etc) has been going on for decades. No apocalypse announced there.

Just a complement for those thinking I'd be as biased as to only trust European sources :)
One click from a link quoted in the article : "Solar Cycle 24 predictions from NASA" (updated 2008/06/04)
No mention of "Dead Sun" on this page either ...

How do you reconcile this story with that from New Scientist in Jan 08 which heralded the first sighting of a sunspot at the start of cycle 24?

Well considering some of the figures in the first few paragraphs are grossly wrong, the story can not be taken as anything but ravings.

Sunspots are nothing really to be concerned about, its when there is a unusually higher number, which means a whole heap of solar flares are about to be snapped across the solar system which will fry satellites and electronics and makes the sky look pretty.

By the way ive attended several conferences on global warming and all i can say is corporate bribed scientists making bogus claims by using selective evidence might fly in the mainstream media, but normally a bunch of real scientists will be waiting in the car park for the chump

Currently the Earth is entering a new solar minimum, similar to the Dalton or Maunder Minimum, with much colder climate as during the coldest parts of The Little Ice Age.

Why is that?
Well, normally the Sun is pushed around in quite small regular elliptical movements by the gravitational forces from Jupiter and Saturn. At these times the solar activity is high.
But at regular intervals the Sun’s trajectory get disturbed and then at times the Sun moves backward during which time the gravitational push on the Sun’s plasma is greatly reduced.
This happened last time in 1990. This slowdown is now reducing the Sun’s eruptional and magnetic activity and has now started a process of a sharp cooling down of the Earth’s climate.

Will global warming from greenhouse gases help us?
Not likely! The global warming scientists are a bunch of agenda driven scientist who come to the wrong conclusion, ignoring the dominant effect of the Sun because of peer-pressure and a reluctance to look at other causes. Their science is subjective looking for one cause only and not objective.

The CO2’s greenhouse effect is highly logarithmic and has already become saturated, so if manmade global warming would be a problem we should already seen temperature increase of 2 to 3 degrees C. That is not the case.

I hate to sound like a global warming alarmist.
But, this is the perfect storm. The politicians try to reduce the amount of fossil fuel use for transportations, fertilizers and heating. Add to that, that now substantial part of the world food production is used for bio-fuel.
This is now inevitable leading to spreading of more poverty, famine and death.
Because of the global cooling we can expect in the coming decades this will only get worse particularly with the polices which is in direct opposition to what is needed.

Ella, sounds like you missed the point. The article mentions the younger-dryas period because it's a perfect example of how periods of cooling can a)happen quickly, and b)come without any apparent warning and c)scientists can't explain many of Earth's past climate changes where the planet has suddenly gotten colder/warmer, and they surely can't accurately predict whether or not hidden variables (precisely because they aren't known or understood) could cause the world to inexplicably get colder/warmer again.

It doesn't state anywhere that younger-dryas was or was not connected to sunspot activity, it merely used it as an example of an unexplainable and sudden change in climate from past history. If you think humans have great predictive powers then I suggest reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It nicely illustrates the point that even in today's high tech culture, we are far from being able to predict the future--there are too many variables and unknowns out there.

I agree with Ken Hall's comments. The Solar System is entering into an alignment with the Winter Solstice Sun between now and 2012. Mythology and Religious stories describe an ancient Sun Spot eruption about 12,000 years ago. We are due for one now. The lack of Sun spots should indicate the opposite, but I would not be supprised if in mid-July 2008 the Sun erupts and we begin a downward cascade toward a New Ice Age.
I am stocking up on fur coats!

Dear Humans: Your ignorance and arrogance is amusing. There are forces at work that you are not aware of. The sun has been turned down a bit to compensate for rising temperatures to give you more time to clean up your mess and create a sustainable civilization. You are entirely dependant upon fossil fuels which will become painfully scarce soon. The last great reserves are in Eastern Antarctica and you will have to use that oil and gas to restructure your societies and live within your means. If it should get a little too chilly, the sun will be turned up. You can make the necesssary changes in a graceful manner or continue to be the horses asses you have always been, embrace diasaster and become the laughing stock of the Universe.


Xavier Lambsbottle

P.S. You know who is back and dissappointed with your lack of progress. He will not return again, this is your last chance.

I would not worry too much about climate change or the enviornment because Maurice Strong, David Rockerfeller and their buddies have the problem covered. “As Kissinger said back in the 1970’s, ‘Control the oil and you can control entire Continents. Control food and you control people…” WTO, OIE and FAO already have the draft ”Guide to Good Farming Practices” ready to go and the European Union is implementing it. This eliminates family farms. See

. “In the EU, there is now a list of 'official' vegetable varieties. Seed that is not on the list cannot be 'sold' to the 'public' To keep something on the list costs thousands of pounds each year.” Monsanto of course has the listed seeds patented and is ready to implement “terminator” genes so EVERYONE must buy new seed each year. (Cross pollination will sterilize any old fashioned varieties, guess thats the reason for Bill Gates' seed vault.)

Think this doesn't effect the USA - WRONG. “..the United States and the European Union have signed up to a new transatlantic economic partnership that will see regulatory standards “harmonized” and will lay the basis for a merging of the US and EU into one single market, a huge step on the path to a new globalized world order.” BBC reported (

Currently the USDA is issuing all livestock farms “premises IDs” (no property rights) and RFID tagging “the National herd” as the first step. ”the Guide to Good Farming Practices” and heavy fines used to confiscate farmland are already in the planning stages as the next step. The FDA has just issued a statement indicating crop farms will also be regulated.

In a 1974 report to Nixon by Kissinger “they’re talking about eliminating three billion people in the world and 100 million American’s before the end of 2050.” With the big corporations controlling the food supply eliminating that “excess” population should not be a problem. After all Stalin did it to the Ukraine. This elimination and control of the remaining population will have very positive effects on the enviornment.

Check out this article at NASA. It as some very good information about sunspot activity for the past few hundred years. I wouldn't start panicking yet.

very nice article. burun estetigi

I do not know why anyone would be worrying about the sun. My time is spent worrying about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Georgia.

If you read the latest reports you have over 400 dead zones in the ocean. As an avid diver I can tell you the reefs and fish populations are screwed up. Big difference over 10 years.

Sushi and lobster will be thing of the past in the next ten years. Remember you heard it here first. People often joked that the oceans are the earths toilet bowl. Well, its also the largest filtration system on the planet. Once that goes...we all go.

You can joke about the super-elite trying to starve of the population..but it does not make a difference...only the people with the most ammo will survive.

Good Luck

"Ha, we need MORE CO2. You idiots driving around in those electric cars are going to freeze us all to death!"

Mikey g, was this the article u were referring to?

I just returned from visiting Yellowstone and was struck by the devastation of the 1988 fires, which were preceeded by acute drought and record setting dry lightening. I began to wonder what solar activity occured leading up the 1988 fire storms. Solar cycle 22 started just a couple of years before that summer of drought and dry lightening. Check this out. Relative to other cycles, that solar cycle had 1) a very fast rise time - 2.8 years, 2) a very short cycle length - 9.7 years, 3) a high minimum sun spot number - 12.3, and 4) a high maximum sun spot number - 158.5


“Cycle 22 certainly provided us with many highlights. Early in the cycle the smoothed sunspot number (determined by the number of sunspots visible on the sun and used as the traditional measure of the cycle) climbed rapidly; in fact more rapidly than for any previously recorded cycle. This caused many to predict that it would eclipse Cycle 19 (peak sunspot number of 201) as the highest cycle on record. This was not to be as the sunspot number ceased climbing in early 1989 and reached a maximum in July of that year. Whilst not of record amplitude, Cycle 22 still rated as 4th of the recorded cycles and continued the run of recent large solar cycles (Cycles 18, 19 and 21 were all exceptional!). A very notable feature of Cycle 22 was that it had the shortest rise from minimum to maximum of any recorded cycle.”
Material Prepared by Richard Thompson. © Copyright IPS - Radio and Space Services.

up the geometry so that the seeker missile will see the brighter side of the satellite rather than the dark side.
In the event that that can't be done or if the satellite is tumbling or rotating, it makes sense to wait till just after sunset when the satellite is moving from the sunlit side of the earth to the dark side. The satellite will be warmest (brightest) since it will have just spent 45 minutes basking in the sun light. When the satellite is in the earth's shadow it will cool down as the heat is radiated away. So it will be coolest just as it enters the sunlight from behind the earth.
The earth will block the sun from shining into the sensors eyes. This will give the sensor the best contrast on the target making it easier to see. It will also ensure that the sensor will not lock on to the sun and try to steer the seeker to it.
You also want to launch the missile from the ground track of the satellite so that the missile does not have to move sideways a lot to get in front of the satellite. since this satellite is in a polar orbit it will appear to travel northeast for a while and then reverse to a southeast track then back to north east ............ as it orbits the earth while the earth spins.
So it makes sense to set up near the equator and wait for it to come at you from the northwest or southwest just after sunset.

Its OK for scientists too speculate that the world might get cooler, and this was an interesting article about that possibility. But that doesn't mean we environmentalists need to get bent out of shape--lets not base all of our arguments around GW, because that's just one part of all of the serious environmental issues we are facing like habitat destruction, mass biocide, rampant air and water pollution and so forth.

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