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Space Science

Sunspots Reach 1000-Year Peak 695

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the radio-signals-cringing dept.
rlp writes "Researchers at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich are reporting that solar sunspot activity is at a 1000-year peak. Records of sunspots have been kept since 1610. The period between 1645 and 1715 (known as the Maunder Minimum) was a period of very few sunspots. Researchers extended the record by measuring isotopes of beryllium (created by cosmic rays) in Greenland ice cores. Based on both observations and ice core records, we are now at a sunspot peak exceeding solar activity for any time in the past thousand years."
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Sunspots Reach 1000-Year Peak

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  • by TodMinuit (1026042) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (tiunimdot)> on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:20PM (#18670799)
    So are temperatures. *ducks from thrown chair*
    • by biocute (936687) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:25PM (#18670847) Homepage
      *ducks from thrown chair*

      No need, this is Sun, not Microsoft.
    • Re:What do you know (Score:4, Interesting)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:54PM (#18671153) Homepage
      Okay. Thrown chairs aside, since this part of the discussion is oooobviously going to turn into a Global Warming flamefest, I'll just ask you to consider the following. There is a little political party out there called the Libertarians. In some ways - particularly with regards to economic policy - they're a lot like the Republicans, or at least the Republicans-before-Bush, only extra-more-so: free trade! free trade! small government! sometimes even no-government! privatize everything! fewer laws! fewer lawsuits! free speech! down with affirmative action! et cetera et cetera. In other ways, they're a lot like the Democrats - mostly with respect to some parts of social policy. Gay rights! Free love! Pro-choice! I won't enumerate all of this here, but I hope you get the idea. In some ways, they're sort of like the polar opposite of the Socialists. They usually lean a bit Ayn Rand.

      I mention them because of all the possible groups out there, they're about the last that would think to jump on the global warming bandwagon. And yet, Reason Magazine [reason.com] (Free Minds and Free Markets!), the definitive Libertarian magazine, has at this point pretty much accepted: global warming exists, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributes to it, and a variety of things will Need To Be Done about it, one way or another, sooner or later. And I think this sort of thinking, coming from this group, should serve as sort of a bell-weather in politics. And I think that their approach to the topic is one that the Republican Party should strongly consider mimicking: stop squabbling about what is and isn't happening, and why. Worry instead about What Should Be Done.

      Now, granted, their ideas of what Should Be Done and the state of things are not very much in line with what the Democratic Party would probably favor. They had a recent article entitled The Convenient Truth [reason.com] on the topic (and they lambast current global-warming politicans for "mistaking panic for virtue").

      ... This argues not for passivity, and not for delay, but for gradualism: setting up policies that will tighten the screws on greenhouse-gas emissions over the next few decades. The convenient truth about global warming, then, is that radicalism is as pointless as it is impractical. Slow-but-steady is not only the easiest approach; it is also the most effective.

      Just as conveniently, the most efficient way to get started is also the simplest, albeit not the easiest politically: tax carbon emissions ... Fortuitously, a carbon tax could also reduce the U.S. budget deficit and the geopolitical leverage of sinister "petrocracies" such as Iran, Russia, and Venezuela. Policy prescriptions don't come any more convenient than that.

      I would advise any right-leaning free-trade-ish pro-capitalist or Republican types to take a good long look at Reason's articles on the topic of global warming and, with all due consideration, study, and time, try to develop a healthy attitude about the reality of global warming. (As a matter of fact, I would advise any left-leaning types who are actually care about these issues for their own sake, and not merely for some sort of anti-capitalist or anti-Western-decadence agenda, to take a look at them as well, perhaps an even longer one.)
      • by TodMinuit (1026042) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (tiunimdot)> on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:59PM (#18671191)
        My rebuttal: When we stop questioning science, stop questioning what we know about the world, science ceases to exist.

        (By the way, I'm a proud Libertarian.)
        • by interiot (50685) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @12:16AM (#18671339) Homepage
          There's a very big difference between "May I review that study to make sure your empirical evidence has been collected properly, and that the evidence supports the conclusions drawn?" and "*puts fingers in ears* Lalalala. What empirical evidence? I don't see any empirical evidence."
          • The problem is (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @07:34AM (#18673275)
            That I find that many GW skeptics do the former. That is to say they raise legitimate questions of the empirical data. They question the methods used, such as using computer models to "prove" things (a model doesn't prove anything), the data gathered, the understanding of the system and so on. They bring up extremely valid points. However the response always seems to be the same: They are shouted down. They are called stupid, or industry shills. Their arguments are dismissed out of hand. The existing data/models are presented as being right with little in the way of justification, and so on.

            That's the problem. Many people act like they are all about science, and are open to questioning, but then when it happens, the reaction is vicious. Sorry, but you don't get to say "Any questioning of our position proves you are an idiot and thus we don't have to respond." I don't care if you don't like the questions posed, if they are legit then they deserve a legit answer.

            From what I've seen, the skeptics do their best to present very well reasoned criticisms and questions of the accepted knowledge. The defenders are the ones that act unscientific and just shout the other side down.

            The Intelligent Design thing is often brought up, as an attempt to shut down skeptics. They say "This is just like Intelligent Design and thus shouldn't be listened to!" Only it isn't. Intelligent Design makes a positive claim (that god created creatures as they are now) but the real problem is it makes an untestable one. Might be they are right, but you'll never prove it. Since according to them god is outside of nature that makes god untestable. Well if it's not testable, it's not science, pure and simple. However GW skeptics are just questioning a theory. Also, they aren't saying "No, your theory is wrong because god says so," they say "Your theory is wrong because of these reasons." That's science right there. Doesn't mean that the skeptics are right, but it does mean they are doing science as it is meant to be done.

            Real science isn't about making a claim and then trying to shout down anyone who says you are wrong. Real science is about trying to prove yourself wrong. It is about trying to think up every way you can that your theory might be wrong and then testing those. Any alternative you can think of. Only when all those tests fail to prove it wrong, do you believe it is true. It's not a matter of trying to run one test and saying "There, I've proven it true!" and getting mad when people don't agree, it is trying to run as many tests as you can and then saying "There, I've tried every way I can to prove it false, and I just can't." Then if someone has a way you didn't think of, you try that too. You just keep on trying too, you keep working on the theory. No theory should ever be considered proven beyond the need for reinvestigation. All the time new areas of science open up that reveal that a long accepted theory was, in fact, an oversimplification. Doesn't mean it was a bad theory or didn't do a good job describing the facts, just that not everything was understood and now we have a better one.

            So to me, it seems like it is the GW proponents putting their fingers in their ears. They don't want to hear any arguments and so any time someone makes one, they pretend like that person didn't and just shout them down.
            • Re:The problem is (Score:4, Insightful)

              by rlthomps-1 (545290) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @09:06AM (#18673985) Homepage

              Sorry your friends are getting shouted down, maybe if they had some data to prove their criticisms, they'd be more likely to be heard?

              They question the methods used, such as using computer models to "prove" things (a model doesn't prove anything), the data gathered, the understanding of the system and so on.

              We use data models for all sorts of shit, for example, 'proving' that the design of the aircraft you're flying in won't crash and burn on takeoff, or like better understanding the conditions that form tornados and any number of things. Apparently you'll trust your life with data models, but when it comes to global warming, they're suddenly useless. Granted, it's completely valid to examine a particular model and critcise the flaws that is has, but that's not what you're doing, you're implying that categorically, they're not useful in understanding climate data, and that's plain wrong

              All the time new areas of science open up that reveal that a long accepted theory was, in fact, an oversimplification. Doesn't mean it was a bad theory or didn't do a good job describing the facts, just that not everything was understood and now we have a better one.

              So how close to 100% of all possible knowledge and accuracy of the chemical mechanism of black powder and projectile physics do you need the scientific community to have before you'll duck when someone fires a gun at you?

              • Re:The problem is (Score:4, Informative)

                by WhiplashII (542766) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @10:59AM (#18675767) Homepage Journal
                We use data models for all sorts of shit, for example, 'proving' that the design of the aircraft you're flying in won't crash

                Interesting that you would say this. Models are indeed used when designing aircraft. But any prediction made by the model is not trusted if the model predicts deviation from normal behaviour - for that, we have to use wind tunnels and models.

                That is the problem here. You cannot create a model which predicts a deviation in behaviour and then use that as proof. You use the model to make a prediction, and then you compare the prediction to reality. Then you have proof.

                Many aspects of Global Warming have followed this procedure. The "doomsday" projections have not. That is why most people don't argue the existence of Global Warming, they argue the necessity of doing anything about a 1 degree change over a decade...
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Shotgun (30919)
                We use data models for all sorts of shit, for example, 'proving' that the design of the aircraft you're flying in won't crash and burn on takeoff

                Nice try, but no. You are utterly and completely wrong.

                The data model is used to 'prove' that a model is worth creating. The model test data is used to 'prove' that the plane won't crash and burn. I may use a computer code to simulate a new design that I'm thinking about building, but anything I could ever consider building in my garage will be very close to mod
      • by Jonny do good (1002498) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @12:38AM (#18671499) Journal
        So you are telling me that I should base science on a political group? That sounds like listening to the Pope in the middle ages telling people that the earth is the center of the universe and the debate is over.
        • Re:What do you know (Score:5, Interesting)

          by FooAtWFU (699187) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @01:00AM (#18671641) Homepage

          So you are telling me that I should base science on a political group? That sounds like listening to the Pope in the middle ages telling people that the earth is the center of the universe and the debate is over.

          No, I said that "I would advise [people] to look at Reason's articles ... and, with all due consideration, study, and time, try to develop a healthy attitude about the reality of global warming." It is apparently obvious to you that basing your ideas about Science on political groups is Not Healthy. So, umm...

          no, you shouldn't do that.

          And I think a Healthy attitude is not particularly well served by breaking out the "omg Pope Middle Ages" comparisons on your opponents. There was a Slashdot article some time back about a study finding how political thought is essentially emotional, and not rational [wikipedia.org]:

          "None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged... Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want... Everyone... may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret 'the facts.'"
          I worry that this is the case here. You appear to appeal to the Scientific. If you do, indeed, value reason and logic, then I hope that you can quash the emotional reaction and see the reason in Reason's articles, and elsewhere, evaluating it on its own merits rather than how well it serves your biases.


          ...

          On a related note, I wasn't able to tell: are you coming from more of a "pro-global-warming" angle or a "global-warming-is-fake" angle?

      • Reason magazine (Score:3, Interesting)

        "Skepticism" over global warming has more to do with dispensationalism and postmillenarianism than it does with a dedication to libertarian principles of the free market. Partly, of course, the Republicans are repudiating environmentalism because the liberals got there first, but the hold the Raputure-waiters have over the party is more to blame. The book Kingdom Coming [amazon.com] discusses this link quite nicely. If the Rapture is coming any second, why worry about the future of the Earth? Plus, Christian Domin
  • by biocute (936687) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:22PM (#18670815) Homepage
    So what happened around 1000 A.D.? How did people then manage a similar peak?
  • by LordKazan (558383) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:23PM (#18670817) Homepage Journal
    before the trolls come in - know that this doesn't debunk global warming. What most of the 'global warming' controversy is centers on "are humans contributing?"

    the answer is absolutely undeniably: Yes

    it's never been stated that we're the only cause.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gbo2k7 (1079095)
      The answer is absolutely undeniably: Maybe
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Ohtsam (1086371)
      While I agree that humans are contributing to the climate change I don't believe it is nearly to the magnitude that some of the scientists and politicians claim. And it should not be pumped up to such high levels of sensationalism especially since no matter how much our nation cuts back on emissions we can't force others to follow suit.
    • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:31PM (#18670917)

      before the trolls come in - know that this doesn't debunk global warming. What most of the 'global warming' controversy is centers on "are humans contributing?"

      the answer is absolutely undeniably: Yes

      Oh please... you expect us to believe that humans cause sunspots???

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by terjeber (856226)

      What most of the 'global warming' controversy is centers on "are humans contributing?"

      Actually, no, that isn't really what the controversy centers on. The controversy centers on to what degree humans are contributing, and of that contribution (due to the fervor of the global warming enthusiasts) what part of that contribution is caused by CO2. If only a part of global warming is caused by human activity, and only part of that is caused by CO2 emissions, then a reduction in these emissions will have a negl

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nwbvt (768631)

      "What most of the 'global warming' controversy is centers on "are humans contributing?""

      Depends on who you are talking to. Climatologists will certainly agree with that statement, as that is exactly what they have been researching. But that is not the discussion that is taking place in politics and in the media (and on a typical day, here on /.). There, a statement from climatologists that they are 90% certain that humans have a role in climate change suddenly becomes "Climatologists are certain man i

  • by techmuse (160085) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:24PM (#18670833)
    Sounds like the sun needs a good dermatologist!
  • If they're at their peak, that means they'll soon decline, and then global warming will be reversed! :)

    (I think I'm kidding.)
  • Scary? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GFree (853379) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:26PM (#18670851)
    I've heard that missiles can be guided to a target through GPS. Could the noise generated from massive sunspot activity cause the missile to drift enough to hit a completely different target even though it THINKS it's on target?

    In other words, could the noise corrupt the GPS signal and offset the readings (but still be understood by the missile), or would it mess-up the system up completely to become totally incomprehensible?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fatboy (6851)
      No, for a couple of reasons. GPS operates in the GHz region. When you hear of "radio blackouts" due to solar activity, it is reference to HF radio in the less than 30MHz region that uses skywave propagation. Currently we are at solar minimum and it is very unlikely we would have a solar event that would cause radio interference in the GHz region. The satellites may be affected by such an event, but I suspect the military has hardened them in such a way to be immune.

       
  • 1000 peak? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JobyKSU (1071830) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:26PM (#18670857)
    Point of order, sirs...

    How can we know we're at the peak if we're also at the highest level we've been? Won't we have to wait until we dip for a while?
  • Climate (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sean0michael (923458) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:27PM (#18670859)
    No doubt this story will stir up our global warming debate again. Rather than continue the same litany of posts, can we focus on informative or interesting posts about how sunspots could affect various parts of our climate (polar temperature, magnetism, radiation, ozone holes, etc.)? Do they have an effect? How large? Is it significant? Is this accurate? That would be something new and helpful.

    I think the last thing most /.ers want to read is another string of the same people posting the same links to previous posts and pasting the same arguments, counterarguments, sources, and denouncements of those sources as in the multiple threads we've had.

    Just a thought.
    • Re:Climate (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TuballoyThunder (534063) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @12:03AM (#18671227)
      I'm sorry, the cause of global warming has been decided and further research is not needed. Please turn off the lights when leaving the hall of scientific inquiry.

      In all seriousness, when I was working on my M.S. in Astronomy (circa 1993), we had a seminar given by solar physicist on sunspots. She showed two slides that were quite interesting: The first slide showed a plot of "global average" CO2 concentration and "global average" temperature and the second slide showed sunspot activity and "global average" temperature. From her brief look into the topic (by her own admission), sunspot activity appeared to correlate better than CO2. She submitted a NSF proposal to study it further and was rejected on the grounds "the cause of global warming is well understood and further research is not warranted.'

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheSHAD0W (258774)
        There's a great video called The Great Global Warming Swindle [jimclark.net]; in it they mention a close correlation for sunspots to global temperatures. (And an even closer correlation for cosmic radiation.)
      • Re:Climate (Score:5, Informative)

        by CaffeineJedi (643314) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:37AM (#18672607)

        From her brief look into the topic (by her own admission), sunspot activity appeared to correlate better than CO2. She submitted a NSF proposal to study it further and was rejected on the grounds "the cause of global warming is well understood and further research is not warranted.'


        This is an excellent comment. I received my B.S. degree in physics and have seen a great deal of legitimate data against humans as the predominant cause for global climate change. Much of the data is refuted by department chairs or the most zealous members of the physics department. Why? You ask. Because those people are the best at delivering funding. Physics, like many other scientific (read: non-engineering) fields, requires a great deal of government funding for research. Those that often receive funding are good at politics, both within the department and outside. Very much like CEOs are often the best at delivering sales or profits, without being the most expert on a subject.

        To dispense with my ad-hominem argument, I would suggest any interested party to look into Milankovitch cycles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles [wikipedia.org].

        These cycles show how small oscillations in some of the Earth's angular parameters impact radiation and hence temperature.
        The chain of events is very clear: 1) astronomical variations -> 2) temperature change. Furthermore, the data from the insolation parameter correlates very well with the ice core data used as a CO2 proxy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Vostok_420ky_4c urves_insolation.jpg [wikipedia.org].

        The scientific community generally regards Milankovitch cycles as being in large part responsible for non-industrial era warming. Yet, when it comes to industrial era warming, proponents of human-caused global climate change say that CO2 emissions are driving temperature. This is a logical departure from the previous theory because it readjusts causality.

        If from that above graph you believe that in ancient eras radiation drove temperature which drives CO2, then why the switch? Am I to believe that somehow in the modern era CO2 drives temperature which drives solar radiation levels incident at the Earth?

        The sun is a massive fusion reactor 330,000 times the mass of earth. Even small fluctuations matter.
        • Re:Climate (Score:4, Insightful)

          by LarsWestergren (9033) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @04:54AM (#18672677) Homepage Journal
          The scientific community generally regards Milankovitch cycles as being in large part responsible for non-industrial era warming. Yet, when it comes to industrial era warming, proponents of human-caused global climate change say that CO2 emissions are driving temperature. This is a logical departure from the previous theory because it readjusts causality.

          Actually, a lot of climate scientists do tackle the questions of solar and orbital cycles effecting, and temperature causing CO2 emissions at the start of historical warming cycles rather than the other way around [realclimate.org].

          With regards to the lady in question from the original poster, I agree with the AC. Could we have a name to verify the claim? Does she still claim this more than 10 years later? If so, resubmit. There is an enormous amount of scientific research being done in this area, and there are organizations willing to fund research debunking global warming (mainly in the petrolium industry)... I don't mean this as a smear, honestly, I am serious. No matter where the funding is coming from, if the research is sound and stands up to scrutiny it would make her world famous. It would also be a big relief for me actually, it would remove a great cause of worry for me.
  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:36PM (#18670977)
    The Sun has a DIRECT influence on global climate, yet the author says "indirect influence", and this is not disputed by ANY scientist.

    The relationships between where Beryllium comes from, the solar wind strength, number of sunspots and cosmic rays is not explained in a coherent manner with simple statements that could be made.

    The number of sunspots has been near constant (on average) over the past 20 years, yet they are at the highest level in over 1000 years for the last 60 years "yet the average temperature of the earth has continued to increase". This shows the author doesn't understand lag times between applying extra energy input to the atmospheric system versus the time required for the large mass of the Earth's ecosystem to respond by warming land, sea and air to the point where average temperature changes can be measured.

    These sort of incomplete descriptions give the average reader a bad view of what is really going on. It gives journalism a bad name.
  • Keep in mind (Score:3, Insightful)

    by otomo_1001 (22925) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:38PM (#18670989)
    This is only saying that of the 1000 years of data, this is the highest we have seen it.

    Right now we can't say much more than that. Correlating this data with global warming is very spurious. We know much more about earth's climate than the sun and would be making a large leap given the limited amount of data.

    We can't really make much of this until we get more data. That will be a long time in coming. Assuming we don't kill each other before then.
  • Redundant and old (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caffiend666 (598633) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:41PM (#18671025) Homepage
    This is a redundant and old story. Last updated date from the article: 6 July, 2004 , almost three years old. Everyone should be aware of this science, but I would hope others have spent time trying to reproduce the data and find other ways to measure solar activity. Solar activity in general is undermeasured in the global warming/climate change debate, if only because of the difficulty of measuring the sun as a whole.
  • Aurora? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Monday April 09, 2007 @11:54PM (#18671161) Homepage
    I subscribe to the keteu.org Aurora mail notification. [keteu.org] Which is handy for knowing when Aurora will appear where I live.. When I grew up I saw them all the time, where I live now, I have seen 1 set in the last 5 years.

    That said, could someone enlighten me on the correlation between sunspots and solar flares? Yes, I know it is flares that cause the Aurora, not sunspots, but do increases in sunspots correlate to an increase in flares? It has been a few years since I was up on my solar topography as it were, so I am hoping for more Aurora in the next little bit - even if I need to travel up to the Youkon this year to see them again.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @12:43AM (#18671541) Journal
    I regularly observe sunspots. I've hardly seen a sunspot for months. We're actually at solar minimum right now. Of course tha article is about a long term average, but the timing of the article is a bit peculiar!

    The article says:

    > Over the past 20 years, however, the number of sunspots has remained roughly constant

    This is a weird statement. In last 20 years we've had two solar cycles and the number of sunspots has varied dramatically over the period as it usually does. You could interpret this statement as saying that relative to the cyclic average the number has remained constant - but that's certainly not how it reads, and 20 years is a bit of a short time over which to make such a judgement.

  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Tuesday April 10, 2007 @07:58AM (#18673409)
    "Sunspots have been monitored on the Sun since 1610, shortly after the invention of the telescope."

    Which were soon follwed by cries of "GAAAHHH!!! I'm blind!!!"

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