Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A new Maunder Minimum on its way?: "I've been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I've never seen anything quite like this"

Forget global warming. A new Maunder Minimum may be on its way:
"I've been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I've never seen anything quite like this," says Richard Harrison, head of space physics at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

He shows me recent footage captured by spacecraft that have their sights trained on our star. The Sun is revealed in exquisite detail, but its face is strangely featureless.

"If you want to go back to see when the Sun was this inactive... you've got to go back about 100 years," he says.

This solar lull is baffling scientists, because right now the Sun should be awash with activity. --

"It's completely taken me and many other solar scientists by surprise," says Dr Lucie Green, from University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

The drop off in activity is happening surprisingly quickly, and scientists are now watching closely to see if it will continue to plummet.

"It could mean a very, very inactive star, it would feel like the Sun is asleep... a very dormant ball of gas at the centre of our Solar System," explains Dr Green.

This, though, would certainly not be the first time this has happened.

During the latter half of the 17th Century, the Sun went through an extremely quiet phase - a period called the Maunder Minimum.

Historical records reveal that sunspots virtually disappeared during this time.

Dr Green says: "There is a very strong hint that the Sun is acting in the same way now as it did in the run-up to the Maunder Minimum."

Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics, from the University of Reading, thinks there is a significant chance that the Sun could become increasingly quiet.

An analysis of ice-cores, which hold a long-term record of solar activity, suggests the decline in activity is the fastest that has been seen in 10,000 years.

Read the entire article here

No comments: