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Space Earth Science

Of Late, Fewer Sunspots Than Usual 628

Posted by timothy
from the sundials-largely-unaffected dept.
esocid writes "The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites. Periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual. 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, with the next cycle just beginning and expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today's sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren't sure why. In the past, solar physicists observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots, coinciding with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700." (More below.)
esocid continues: "The Hinode, a Japanese satellite mission with the US and UK as partners, has three telescopes that together show how changes on the sun's surface spread through the solar atmosphere. It orbits 431 miles (694 km) above the Earth, crossing both poles and making one lap every 95 minutes, giving Hinode an uninterrupted view of the sun for several months out of the year. Scientists are not extremely worried, but have added extra ground stations in case of interference from extra solar activity, and are ready for the Sun to resume its activity." (The Little Ice Age is fascinating, full stop.)
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Of Late, Fewer Sunspots Than Usual

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  • by Svet-Am (413146) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:45AM (#23728767)
    it's obvious why -- climate change and solar warming! we need legislation to fix this problem.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:46AM (#23728803)
      I blame the loss of pirates.
    • by peragrin (659227) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:46AM (#23728809)
      Nope it's actuall the global warming laws that the sun is following. The summary stated without sunspots for 50 years the planet went through a mini ice age. The sun is just trying to help us cool the planet down a bit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fm6 (162816)
      Yeah, everybody knows that it's sunspots that cause climate change. Or maybe its absence of sunspots. Yeah, must be that, cause that's what we've got. It certainly isn't my SUV!
      • by ArcherB (796902) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:57AM (#23729105) Journal

        Yeah, everybody knows that it's sunspots that cause climate change. Or maybe its absence of sunspots. Yeah, must be that, cause that's what we've got. It certainly isn't my SUV!
        Not unless you've been driving your SUV on Jupiter, which is also experiencing warming...

        Couldn't be the sun causing GW. Why would anyone even think that the primary source of heat in the solar system would be responsible for warming?
        • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary&yahoo,com> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:08PM (#23729415) Journal
          First, lack of sunspots corresponds to lowered solar output. Second, while the warming of Jupiter can be explained by increases in solar output, the warming of Earth can not. Do you honestly think climate scientists don't take this into account? That's either bordering on a tinfoil hat level of crazy conspiracy theory, or it represents an equally crazy level of disdain for other people's intellect.

          I can't understand why anyone falls for this argument, it represents a complete lack of respect for science.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Most climatologist do NOT take this into account. Are you speaking of the same scientist that swore the hole in the ozone layer was due to CFCs? Because a report (Scientific American, Spaceweather.com) both showed a direct correlation to particle emissions from the sun. NOT CFCs.

            Before you go claiming "tinfoil hat science" I would look at the universities where those climatologist teach. With Berkley, Stanford, and any other liberal biased university behind their name, you can bet on their position.
            • by Coriolis (110923) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:23PM (#23731121)

              Are you perhaps referring to this article from 2001 [sciam.com] which suggests that cosmic rays (which are different from emissions from the Sun, btw) intensify the effect of CFCs?

              I suggest that you first read through the resources on realclimate.org on solar forcing, where it has been extensively discussed, and if you wish to dispute their findings, then please attack the science, not the scientist.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by pjabardo (977600)
              I did not know about this correlation of ozone hole and particle emissions from the sun. Very interesting indeed. Did you notice how fast the ozone hole "problem" was solved? It reached mainstream media and a couple of years later CFCs were banned. How fast can such broad decisions be made? I remember one paper that was widely cited that basically mixed CFCs and an atmosphere and bombarded this environment with UV and the result was the destruction of O3. But conditions (pressure, temperature concentration
            • by packeteer (566398) <packeteer.subdimension@com> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:36PM (#23731439)
              Before you go claiming "tinfoil hat science" I would look at the universities where those climatologist teach. With Berkley, Stanford, and any other liberal biased university behind their name, you can bet on their position.

              I find it interesting that anytime the facts don't line up with someone's values they say there is a "liberal bias" going on. That is a classic ad hominem attack. It's literally a textbook example of one, but I'm sure that textbook must be biased.

              Maybe rational people and the apparent facts of the world have a liberal bias. Or perhaps the forces of unreason in the world have seen a polarized society and chose to exploit one side to support their arguments. Most of the time if someone is greedy and they need public support for themselves all the need to do is claim this is a political issue and generally poor conservatives will support them.
          • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:31PM (#23729927) Journal
            Ok, let's do some science. Physics, to be precise. We'll start from the StefanBoltzmann law [wikipedia.org].

            Radiated energy is proportional to the _fourth_ power of the temperature. For a black body j = sigma * T^4, for a body that's not quite black, you just plug an emissivity factor in too.

            A body heated by an external source (e.g., Earth) reaches equilibrium when the radiated energy equals the incoming energy. So the equation works just the same with j being the _incoming_ energy from the Sun.

            What I'm getting at is that the average temperature of Earth is in the ballpark of 300K. We had an increase of 1K in a whole bloody century. That's the whole Global Warming. That's an increase of 0.3% or so. Plugging it back into the StefanBoltzmann law, we need an increase of only 1.003^4=1.01205 times in solar output to _fully_ explain it. That's 1.2% btw.

            But even that's a bit over-calculated. Being that the same law applies to the Sun's power output, basically we just need the same 0.3% increase in the Sun's temperature to get that effect, all else being equal. You don't need anything spectacular to happen, really.

            Yes, sunspots are a cause of short term variations, but we really don't know what the Sun has been gradually doing over that century. If both Jupiter _and_ Mars have been warming up, maybe the Sun is warming up after all.

            And finally, well, if you're that concerned about insults to people's intelligence... maybe you should STFU with the "shut up and don't dare question the High Priests" attitude. Just a thought.
            • Except ... (Score:5, Informative)

              by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:04PM (#23730683)

              Plugging it back into the StefanBoltzmann law, we need an increase of only 1.003^4=1.01205 times in solar output to _fully_ explain it. That's 1.2% btw.
              However, over the last 150 years or so, solar irradiance has only increased by about 0.1% (from ~1364.5 to 1366 W/m^2, IIRC).
              • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:01PM (#23732105) Journal
                Even NASA's data [nasa.gov] seems to disagree with you. We had twice your number since 1970 alone. Go figure. A 0.05% increase per decade, over a century, is 0.5%. (And over 150 years, it's 0.75%.) Now it doesn't go the full 1.2% we'd need to explain the Global Warming (unless it went up as a different rate before), but it almost halves the effect we can blame ourselves for.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              What I'm getting at is that the average temperature of Earth is in the ballpark of 300K. We had an increase of 1K in a whole bloody century. That's the whole Global Warming. That's an increase of 0.3% or so. Plugging it back into the StefanBoltzmann law, we need an increase of only 1.003^4=1.01205 times in solar output to _fully_ explain it. That's 1.2% btw.

              You are incorrect. Black body radiation alone only explains an average global temperature of 254K or -19C. The difference between that and the current

          • by mh1997 (1065630) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:35PM (#23730029)

            "...while the warming of Jupiter can be explained by increases in solar output, the warming of Earth can not.
            At least 25% of it can be:

            From http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080512120523.htm [sciencedaily.com]

            Over the past century, Earth's average temperature has increased by approximately 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit). Solar heating accounts for about 0.15 C, or 25 percent, of this change, according to computer modeling results published by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies researcher David Rind in 2004.

            "Right now, we are in between major ice ages, in a period that has been called the Holocene," said Cahalan. "Over recent decades, however, we have moved into a human-dominated climate that some have termed the Anthropocene. The major change in Earth's climate is now really dominated by human activity, which has never happened before."

            My question is what is the optimum temperature to sustain life on our planet? I've searched and can't find that answer and would appreciate any help. I'm not denying warming or trying to flame, I am serious about the question.

            • by mpeskett (1221084) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:49PM (#23730365)
              Depends what kind of life you prefer. There are species able to fill most niches, from polar bears and penguins at the cold end to extremophiles in the boiling hot ocean vents. The perceived problem with warming is that it removes some of the diversity of available niches (i.e. if all the ice melts the ice-living stuff has a problem). If it got significantly colder then things in the tropics might have a problem.

              For the life that has been around for the relatively recent past, the temperatures of the relatively recent past are preferred... that's how evolution works, things adapt to the conditions that are available, or they die out. There is no real optimum, any sudden change from the prevailing norm means some species or other is fucked.

              Although, if you just want to maximise the total mass of alive stuff on the face of the Earth, tropical temperatures seem to work well (lot of biomass in the rainforests), so a planet that's mostly fairly warm, with some deserts at the equator where it gets hotter and some temperate regions further north is probably your best bet. Shame about the polar bears though.
            • by Alsee (515537) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:16PM (#23732501) Homepage
              My question is what is the optimum temperature to sustain life on our planet?

              You could change the temperature by a hundred degrees in either direction and the earth would cheerfully continue to sustain life. However the life sustained would not include us, nor most other species.

              Talking about an "optimal" temperature isn't really meaningful. But I will tell you what *is* optimal and extremely meaningful for sustaining life... a constant temperature. Or at least one that only changes slowly over geological timescales.

              Changing temperatures, especially rapidly changing temperatures, are extremely destructive to life. It only takes a fairly small change to start a cascade of extinctions. And it also only takes a small change to be extremely disruptive to us. Humans live everywhere from the equator to the deep arctic circle, but in every case we are highly adapted- to and reliant-on the expected conditions. If the climate changes even a small amount, the effects would be wide ranging and harmful to us. Not the least of such effects is changes in rain and other agricultural factors. Areas where we expect low rainfall can be inundated with flooding, while major farming areas and population centers can be hit with devastating droughts. A less deadly but still disruptive effect is is agricultural areas remain viable, but farmers have to figure out and adapt to different crops viable in the new climate conditions. Another major issue is that warming brings a massive increase in the range of mosquitoes and deadly mosquito-born diseases like malaria. Another issue is that many major cities and vast swaths of population live along low-lying coastal areas, and even a modest rise in sea level would be a disruption to humanity of colossal proportions. It's not merely about land that would fall below the new sea level, you have to consider hurricane storm surges. Every foot of higher sea level massively increases the frequency and range of land flooded under a storm surge. The disruptive effects on humanity just go on and on. We have built our civilization on hundreds of years of hard lessons about the local climate and what the water supply is and what grows where and what the various animal insect and disease ranges are and on the sea level and what the storm flood threats are and on and on and on. Change itself is enormously disruptive and costly.

              -
          • by Iowan41 (1139959) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:41PM (#23730173)
            And those few who actually are climatologists, like Mr. Hanson, know that they are lying. The facts are plain. There has been no warming (except where they move thermometers to hang over asphalt parking lots), and now there is cooling, in sync with the sunspot minimum in progress, and the Pacific Decadal Occilation. 31,000 climatologists, climate scientists and other scientists just signed a petition against the 1900 IPCC sociologists and a handful of scientists getting their grant money from promoting warming alarmism. The ice sheets are getting thicker, too. You are sooo easily deceived. Would you happen to be interested in buying a bridge? Or male enhancement pills?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by ericferris (1087061)
            Do you honestly think climate scientists don't take this into account?

            Actually, they don't. All the models I am running in my datacenter are using a "solar constant" for solar energy flux, and modulate it only through albedo variations.

            I have yet to see a model that takes solar variability into account. Mostly because, to be honest, we don't know much about said variability. So we'd be hard pressed to model it. Hey, give us a break, we have had satellites up there for only a few decades, and the Sun has cyc

          • by Snocone (158524) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:22PM (#23731097) Homepage
            Do you honestly think climate scientists don't take this into account? That's either bordering on a tinfoil hat level of crazy conspiracy theory, or it represents an equally crazy level of disdain for other people's intellect.

            Errrm ... no, there's a third option. Namely, "they've actually read the IPCC reports".

            Not only do climate scientists not take this into account, they actively conduct witch hunts on anybody who does attempt to even research it.

            Read "The Chilling Stars" for an absolutely horrifying -- if you have any respect for the scientific method at all -- chronicle of how the rather plausible Svensmark theories on linkage of solar activity with cosmic rays and therefore cloud formation and therefore climate change -- and MOST IMPORTANTLY, how the historically low amount of clouds in the late 20th C. could very well be responsible for ALL the observed warming relegating C02 to an irrelevance -- was and still is, on the whole, treated with rather less respect and integrity than the Catholic Church gave Gailileo.

          • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:22PM (#23731099) Homepage
            Actually if you read the IPCC's "guidelines" you will be forced to admit that at the very least there's good money to be made by not taking it into account.

            (you're excluded from UN research funds if you claim the sun warms the earth, the UN is certainly not the only organisation doing that btw.)

            So while whether they take em up on that offer or not, one thing's for sure : the scientist that claim it's the sun are the poorer ones.
        • by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:19PM (#23729659) Homepage

          Insightful? Yikes!!!

          Jupiter is experiencing warming NEAR THE POLES. Not the entire planet. Did you read the research behind what you are spouting? Or are you just cherry-picking the sound bites that make you point you have already 'decided' must be true.

          If you decided to read it, then you surely came across the fact that "While the analysis remains to be proven, it is seen by other researchers as interesting and, importantly, testable even with large backyard telescopes."

          So while evidence that is mounting in favor of the cause of the RETENTION of the heat on the planet earth, which causes it to retain heat energy in the infrared part of the spectrum, then that is just 'junk science' and needs to be pointed out how there is no hard evidence to support it.

          But when the same limited data set and hypothesis is put forward that jupiter is experiencing climate change, that lack of actual evidence to prove the theory is something that can just be brushed aside for the sake of arguing against the same cirumstances on Earth that have similar holes in the data set?

          Next time, you need to be able to think about what you are parroting, lest it make you like a complete fool.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by NeutronCowboy (896098)
          I always found this assertion interesting. The highly indirect measurements of the temperature of the outer planets, which could potentially indicate a warming over the last few years, are taken at face value. Yet the increase in temperature on Earth, measured in countless ways and recorded over hundreds of years, mean nothing.

          Nice confirmation bias you got going there.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Alsee (515537)
          It's simple physics. The atmosphere greenhouse effect ALREADY keeps the earth about 50 degrees F (about 28 C) warmer than it would be if there were no atmospheric greenhouse effect. Most of the earth would be an iceball if the greenhouse wasn't there already warming the earth quite substantially.

          When you crank up the CO2 content of the atmosphere, it's like adding additional layers of insulation to an glass greenhouse. And CO2 doesn't cover the entire infrared spectrum - it's like there are parts of the gre
    • by clam666 (1178429) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:02PM (#23729231)

      The sun isn't changing. Man causes climate change, the climate change causes solar activity to change.

      Now that I've proved it the solution is to create a economic cap-and-trade system that creates a secondary market for the redistribution of wealth from people that earned it(good, bad, ugly, fairly, or unfairly) to people that didn't.

      Surely you know that the movements of pieces of green paper around the earth will cause a perfect eden to exist like northern California worldwide don't you?

  • by Palmyst (1065142) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:46AM (#23728797)
    a little spotty?
  • by Kemanorel (127835) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:48AM (#23728873)
    ...Larry Niven's Fallen Angels [wikipedia.org]. Basic back story was that global warming was corrected, but it was the only thing holding back the next ice age. Not a bad supposition for a 17-year old novel. Pretty fun read with some decent science, as well.
    • by fumblebruschi (831320) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:48PM (#23730345)
      Meh. Fallen Angels is what a friend of mine calls "fan porn" -- a book cynically designed to flatter the vanity of its target audience. The book features a group of (what else?) science-fiction-fan nerds who are persecuted for being smart, creative, and open-minded -- exactly the fantasy that many SF fans construct about their own lives. (Hey, it's not that people avoid you because you're an obnoxious ass -- it's that they're all jealous because you're special.) There is no plot that sits so well with the SF market as a story about a small group of superior people who are oppressed by the inferior masses.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:54AM (#23729011)
    While you probably don't agree with most of his stances on the myriad issues, his position on global warming is spot on. Even if all the hullaballoo surrounding whether humans are the primary cause of global climate change or not, if we take actions now to stem wholesale dumping of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, whether it turns out that we have a huge impact on the global ecosystem or not, at least the world we leave behind will be cleaner and more hospitable for our children and future generations.

    With new data pointing to a possible solar cause to global climate change, it does not change the fact that sucking up all the available fuels and dumping CO2 into the atomsphere is making the world a worse place to live.

    Hopefully we can make the right changes whether or not the science backs us up.
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @11:59AM (#23729169) Journal
    What happens when an asteroid hits the sun? Does it splash? Or does it vaporize before it hits the sun?

    I've read that sunspots are caused by the sun's internal magnetic field, how do we measure it?
  • 2012 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FiloEleven (602040) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:04PM (#23729283)

    ...and expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012
    Causing the apocalypse predicted by the Mayan calendar, no doubt.
  • by steeljaw (65872) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:04PM (#23729291) Homepage Journal
    Surprised that nobody has yet linked this to the Mayan 2012 prophecy, in which The world will end on Dec 21, 2012. [survive2012.com].. I'm not a big believer in apocalypse prophecies, I think it's just one of Man's primal fears and along with death, probably one of the reasons religions were created.
  • 2012? (Score:3, Interesting)

    isn't that when the mayan calendar is supposed to end?

    http://skepdic.com/maya.html [skepdic.com]

    so the sun is just preparing to shut down, for the coming end of the world, of course
  • by georgep77 (97111) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:09PM (#23729439) Homepage Journal
    A few hundred years ago William Herschel was able to notice the inverse relationship between sunspots and the price of wheat.
    http://www.hao.ucar.edu/Public/education/bios/herschel.html [ucar.edu]

    I find it amazing that this relationship (sun spots vs agricultural output) is dismissed so easily by the current anti-CO2 crowd. I am all for eliminating pollution but I am very worried that the focus on CO2 is completely wrong and is doing a great disservice to humanity.

    CO2 is the breath of life.

    _GP_
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wass (72082)
      I find it amazing that this relationship (sun spots vs agricultural output) is dismissed so easily by the current anti-CO2 crowd.

      Are you kidding? It is this very observation (solar activity vs earth temperature) that has led scientists to conclude that global warming is caused by another factor beyond solar output.

      Scientists haven't used wheat prices per se, but there exist hundreds of years of sunspot data from astronomers around the world.

      Increased solar activity leads directly to increased terrestrial t
  • by hanshotfirst (851936) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @12:33PM (#23729985)
    1. Group A declares GLOBAL WARMING (and soylent green) comes from PEOPLE
    2. Group B declares Nuh-uh! Not it doesn't!
    3. World expends great effort in reducing human contribution, reducing warming by (a little bit)
    4. Natural warming/cooling cycles shift, reducing warming by (a lot)
    5. Earth cools due to natural cycle before effects of #3 really kick in.
    6. Group A declares GLOBAL COOLING also came from human behavior. See! Told You So! Our efforts worked! We should do more of #3!
    7. Group B says zOMG! The earth is cooling! Build more SUVs! Save the planet! Save the tropical fish from extinction!
    8. The current arguments continue
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AWhiteFlame (928642)
      Except that in the 70's there was already a huge calmour about a Global Cooling.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by slashname3 (739398)

        Except that in the 70's there was already a huge calmour about a Global Cooling.
        And the SUV saved us all! Proof that the system works!
  • by nsayer (86181) <nsayer&kfu,com> on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:36PM (#23731441) Homepage
    I was an active ham [wikipedia.org] back in college - about 1998. 20 meters was great back then. But I moved into a series of apartments where I couldn't put up an antenna, and the Internet came along, so I let it slide. Recently, my wife sort of convinced me to take the hobby back up again (probably to take some of my time away from Poker), and now that I'm back on the air.... the Sun isn't cooperating. :(

    But that's ok. At least we're on the upswing rather than the downswing.

  • Natural Variation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by verloren (523497) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @01:38PM (#23731493)
    Although these cycles average at 11 years (actually 11.1), they vary markedly between approximately 9 and 14 years. So while this one is running longer than average it's going to be another 18 months or so before it's really unusual.

    On a related note the period of 'no sunspots' is referred to as the Maunder Minimum, though it should be noted that there were still sunspots, and the cycles did continue, just at a greatly reduced intensity.

    Note: I do not look at the sun directly, nor do I play someone who does so on TV.
  • by giminy (94188) on Tuesday June 10, 2008 @02:29PM (#23732937) Homepage Journal
    In the past, solar physicists observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots, coinciding with a little ice age on Earth that lasted from 1650 to 1700."

    This is really really *really* hard to say. Our data on sunspots in prior to about 1750 is pretty dismal. Most of the mentions of sunspots are casual or even accidental observation. You can find a lot of data on this at the NOAA ftp site:

    Reports of sunspots from 164BC to 1918AD [noaa.gov]
    Monthly average of sunsports from 1749 to present [noaa.gov]

    Note two things: One, that there were reports of sunspots between 1650 and 1700; two, that the data prior to 1749 is inaccurate and (pardon the pun) spotty.

    Note that the monthly averages file (the second one) is fairly accurate, as the older data in that file was made by the Royal Observatory and the later data in that file was made by the NOAA. I find it really hard to jump to the conclusion that the little ice age was a result of sunspots. Without a time machine, I don't think we could say that with any degree of certainty.

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