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NASA Space Science

Mystery of the Missing Sunspots, Solved? 99

Posted by samzenpus
from the hide-and-go-seek dept.
PRB_Ohio writes "The sun is in the middle of a century long solar minimum, and sunspots have been puzzlingly scarce for more than two years. Now, for the first time, solar physicists might understand why. The gist is that there is a 'jet stream' like phenomenon about 7,000km below the surface of the sun. The streams migrate slowly from the poles to the equator and when a jet stream reaches the critical latitude of 22 degrees, new-cycle sunspots begin to appear. Scientists at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona, used a technique called helioseismology to track and analyze the streams."
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Mystery of the Missing Sunspots, Solved?

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  • Puberty (Score:5, Funny)

    by CosmicRabbit (1505129) <jppequenao@NOspam.gmail.com> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:09PM (#28367615)
    My theory is way simpler. The Sun simply got out of puberty, and obviously acne started to disappear...
    • by StefanJ (88986) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:36PM (#28367799) Homepage Journal

      So those coronal mass ejections we hear about were the Sun exploring . . . mmmnnnn never mind, I won't go there.

      • by hezekiah957 (1219288) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:38PM (#28367817)
        Boy, I wish there was a "-1, Disgusting" (or +1) mod.
      • So those coronal mass ejections we hear about were the Sun exploring . . . mmmnnnn never mind, I won't go there.

        Why not? That was starting to get pretty hot!

        Get it? Hot? Like the sun or sexually?

        Although I guess his description couldn't physically be hot... so this pun just doesn't work and it's just a telling revelation about my odd preferences...

        • by Nutria (679911)

          Get it? Hot? Like the sun or sexually?

          Explaining obvious jokes is considered a prime indicator of lameness. For your own good, learn from your mistakes...

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by fluffywuffy (844881)

        So those coronal mass ejections we hear about were the Sun exploring . . .

        uranus ?

      • by Skelde (697341)

        What's so bad about popping zits ?

    • by jd (1658)

      The mice wanted to recoup the cost of getting Earth built [bbc.co.uk] and were wagering the sunspots at Las Vegas.

    • by Cr0vv (1223332)
      The reason the Sunspot's are not appearing is because of a large magnetic planet passing by the sun. At the moment, one of it's poles is facing the sun that is "quieting" the sun's surface.
      • Hey, it's me again. It's been a year and a half(Jan 2008) since you first told me that this planet you speak of would kill us within 6-12 months but we're not dead yet. No astronomers have mentioned its existence so is it invisible as well? You told me that there'd be all sorts of panic about this thing by now but the only person I can find mentioning this BS is you. Care to explain? I'm all ears, and I have a telescope handy so if you want to tell me where I'm supposed to be looking, I'll be happy to prove
  • by feepness (543479) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:13PM (#28367647) Homepage
    So I guess this is what happens when you cross the streams...
  • Sunspot cycle (Score:5, Informative)

    by Psychotic_Wrath (693928) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:21PM (#28367705)
    Here is a neat article explaining more about sunspots http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2009/01apr_deepsolarminimum.htm?list56376/ [nasa.gov] It talks about the cycle in sunspots.
  • by ockegheim (808089) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:28PM (#28367731)

    ... that at least some climate activity isn't and can't be affected by humans.

    I'm hoping the missing sunspots has contributed to the extended drought in Australia. "The driest *insert month or time period* on record" is getting tiresome.

    • by riverat1 (1048260) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:43PM (#28368287)

      I heard on the news today that the Australian Weather Service decided to stop calling it a drought because using the word drought implies it will end at some point and they don't see this ending anytime soon.

    • ???Clue??? (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Solar minimum refers to both sunspot counts and overall solar energy output. The earth is being hit by the least solar energy in a long time currently.

      We are fortunate that the solar cycle is a relatively minor factor in the climate, or we'd be in a serious world of hurt (as in deaths due to famine on the order of a billion) within a decade.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @11:05PM (#28369151)

      What everybody fails to mention about Climate, is that 99% of it is caused by the Sun. Earth's spin gets the last 1%, which lets the sun do cooler stuff with wind than it could without it.

      We actually have a miniscule affect on climate. The only bad part is it may not take much at all to kill us.

      • by NickFortune (613926) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @03:27AM (#28370551) Homepage Journal

        What everybody fails to mention about Climate, is that 99% of it is caused by the Sun

        That's an interesting way of looking at it.

        Of course, you should also consider that Earth's biosphere is essentially a planet sized solar collector. Plants trap the sunlight and store it as high energy compounds. Then animals come along ad turn the plants' trapped energy into more concentrated forms, like fats. Even when the organism dies, the stored energy remains. Eventually, if given long enough it turns into fossil fuels. Six hundred million years of dinosaur blubber gave us our oil reserves. Lord knows how many years of dead trees went to make our coal.

        We actually have a miniscule affect on climate

        Well, that all depends on what we do, doesn't it? I mean, if we built a giant magnifying glass in space so Earth got five times more solar radiation, that would have an effect. If we launched solar reflectors into orbit so 50% of the sunlight falling on the planet was reflected away, that would have an effect too. Granted, it would be the Sun causing the effect. But it would also be us, yeah?

        And to my way of thinking, if we take 600 million years of trapped solar radiation and release most of it over a paltry couple of centuries ... well, I reckon that would have an effect too.

        • by Bigby (659157)

          If the Sun died out, it would have such a huge magnitude more effect on Earth than a big magnifying glass. For that reason, it is tough to argue that the Sun doesn't have more than a 99% effect on our climate.

          • If the Sun died out, it would have such a huge magnitude more effect on Earth than a big magnifying glass

            That rather depends on the size of the magnifying glass. There's not a lot of difference between a lifeless ball of ice and a lifeless cinder. At least not in terms of quality of life.

          • I'm ready [wikipedia.org] for the loss of the sun!

        • by danlip (737336)

          Six hundred million years of dinosaur blubber gave us our oil reserves. Lord knows how many years of dead trees went to make our coal.

          both the oil and the coal come mostly from plant matter. Any biomass can turn into oil given the right conditions, and there has always been far more plant biomass than animal biomass.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by meringuoid (568297)
          And to my way of thinking, if we take 600 million years of trapped solar radiation and release most of it over a paltry couple of centuries ... well, I reckon that would have an effect too.

          That's not really what it's about. The waste heat from our industries isn't heating the Earth significantly; according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] the total world electricity generation is 6.3*10**19 J. The total energy input from the Sun is 1.5*10**22 J. All our industries add up to about half of a percent of the Earth's heat budget.

          • Yes, that is a better way to look at it. Still the sun making the change, since more solar engergy is being retained; but still us causing that change to happen, since we're boosting the CO2 levels.

            I never thought of it in terms of thermal equilibrium and black body temperatures before. Seems obvious now you've pointed it out.

      • by Cyberax (705495)

        We actually have a minuscule effect on climate, yes.

        But our greenhouse gases have effect on how our planet adsorbs and reflects Solar radiation. And Sun, as you've said, is more than 99% of climate.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760) *
      "that at least some climate activity isn't and can't be affected by humans"

      Been reading Andrew Bolt's fact free opinion columns have we? Nobody who has read the IPCC reports could possibly belive that scientists dispute the existance of natural variations but plenty of politically motivated, anti-science trolls have claimed EVERYTHING can be explained by natural variation. Not the least amoung these lying hypocrites is the coal industry's pet senator Barnaby Joyce [news.com.au].

      Here [bom.gov.au] is what the BOM says about our c
      • PS (Score:3, Funny)

        by TapeCutter (624760) *
        Those natuaral variations include solar flux but not susnspots, the reason being is that there is not a scrap of hard evidence [iop.org] that sunspots affect Earth's climate but there is plenty of evidence they affect book sales [physicsworld.com].
      • > but plenty of politically motivated, anti-science trolls have claimed
        > EVERYTHING can be explained by natural variation.

        One also has to watch out for politically motivated, anti-science trolls who claim EVERYTHING can be solved by massive regulation and control...by them.

        Predictions such as a billion people moving inland slowly over a century are far less a problem than, say, slowed or retrograde growth ala the former USSR or North Korea.

  • What? (Score:2, Funny)

    by arun84h (1454607)
    I figured the Hardy Boys would be long dead by now! Great job, boys!
  • Old news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cdn-programmer (468978) <terr@@@terralogic...net> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:33PM (#28367767)

    This is old news. Its been known for a few years now that the solar conveyor belt has slowed. The question is how long solar activity will remain weak.

    During the Maunder minimum it remained weak from about 1645 to 1710. Other minimums also occurred over a fairly long duration. During these minimums the earth tends to be quite cold. Read the wikipedia article on the maunder minimum and related minimums.

    Thing is we may face many decades of reduced agricultural output at a time when we have many mouths to feed.

    Its too early to tell yet, but cycle #24 is over 2 years late and cycle #25 is expected to be weak as well. So we could be looking at 22+ years of cold cold weather.

    • Re:Old news (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:17PM (#28368101)

      Its too early to tell yet, but cycle #24 is over 2 years late...

      We're pregnant, aren't we.

      • by Lars T. (470328)

        Its too early to tell yet, but cycle #24 is over 2 years late...

        We're pregnant, aren't we.

        This is the Sun's answer to us declaring Pluto a non-planet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What the hell will Al Gore do?

      • Re:Old news (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:33PM (#28368237)

        What the hell will Al Gore do?

        Well maybe you missed the memo, but the problem is not "Global Warming" anymore, it's "Climate Change".

        Since the climate is always changing, Al's job is safe.

        • by Bemopolis (698691)

          Well maybe you missed the memo, but the problem is not "Global Warming" anymore, it's "Climate Change".
          Of course, what you fail to notice is that memo suggesting the phrase "climate change" was on a list of suggested Republican talking points written by pollster Frank Luntz, as an attempt to soften the language of the ACTUAL PROBLEM so that stupid people would think that it wasn't a problem. And here you go using it against the opposition, as if he were the one with the language problem.

          It's fucking st

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        Well it is still pretty warm despite the lack of sunspots, so when sunspot activity picks up again, as it will at some point, expect things to get even warmer still.

    • Re:Old news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:44PM (#28368293) Journal
      Thing is we may face many decades of reduced agricultural output at a time when we have many mouths to feed.

      No worries though. In the time it takes for the population to triple, our agricultural output quadruples. The problem is, and always has been, distribution.
      • by Korbeau (913903)

        Yes, I totally agree! For instance, I always find the distribution of chocolate chips in my cookies quite disturbing! This makes me sooooo angry sometimes!

        Once we fix this problem, everyone will eat happily for once!

      • by Bemopolis (698691)

        The problem is, and always has been, distribution. And encroachment onto arable land. And erosion. And leaching of overused fertilizers and pesticides into the ground water. Oh, and the depletion of ground water. Not to mention the strain on infrastructure due to the tripling of the population.

        But at least the last one will increase the odds of a good pandemic to cull the herd. Thanks, Malthus!
        • If you haven't, you should really see "Urinetown: The Musical". I'm serious, even if musicals aren't normally your thing. It's hilarious and deals with this sort of issue in a dark comedic way.

    • Not old news ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by oneiros27 (46144) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @09:46PM (#28368633) Homepage

      This week is the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Solar Physics Division, which explains the timing of the press release.

      There have been a number of talks regarding the long solar minimum, and although I've been avoiding most of the oral sessions, there was one by Frank Hill (another NSO person) yesterday showing that um ... okay, I can't remember what the axii on the graphs were, but that the general activity below the 'surface' of the sun was showing a more gradual ramp up than the last solar minimum, but we're roughly at the same level of activity as when we started cycle 23.

      (disclaimer -- I'm not a solar physicist, but I am an affiliate SPD member ... I'd link to the abstract, but the system won't give me a useful URL)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by evilviper (135110)

      So we could be looking at 22+ years of cold cold weather.

      Just enough time to fix global warming...

      BTW, that must be a HUGE groundhog.

  • by sk999 (846068) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:33PM (#28367769)

    NASA's logo is attached to the article, but the National Solar Observatory is funded by the National Science Foundation. Different agency entirely. http://www.nso.edu/ [nso.edu]

  • by Penguinshit (591885) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:38PM (#28367819) Homepage Journal
    ... I call them freckles. If a sunspot moves or grows the dermatologist deals with it.
  • So solar output was correlated with sunspots. Now it is also correlated with a subsurface current. A step forward, but it is a bit premature to use the word "explain."

    On a different not, how depressing that I have been pushed into resenting several forms of science. When I saw the headline, my first thought was, "Crap. More data to cherry pick to justify central control over individuals." And I say this as someone who has actually published in peer reviewed journals. Gloom.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Publishing is the first step in peer review, not the final end all.

      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by Darby (84953)

        Publishing is the first step in peer review, not the final end all.

        Now I could be wrong (seriously, I really don't know all that much about this), but I thought that "respectable" journals had peers to whom they send articles for review prior to publishing? So after publishing, certainly more peers get a chance to look over the results and the process continues.
        But assuming that I'm correct, wouldn't that make submitting or maybe the assignment of the reviewers the first step?

  • HF Radio (Score:5, Informative)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @07:57PM (#28367955)
    i know the upper part of the HF spectrum has been acting like the next solar cycle has already started, the DX/Skip has been incredibly good and dependable and any HF enthusiast knows that by now if they have a HF rig handy.
  • The Economy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fished (574624) <amphigory@ g m ail.com> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:16PM (#28368093)
    Of course, the fact that we have the worst global recession in 70 years at the same time as a low in sunspot activity is Entirely Coincidental. Seriously, I haven't studied this in depth, so I don't really know, but it sure seems suspicious, and it's certainly been proposed in the past that the sunspot cycle affected the economy.
  • Oh, shoot! (Score:5, Funny)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:49PM (#28368327) Homepage
    And all this time I thought the lack of sunspots was caused by global warming.

    Back to the drawing board. :)
  • It was Carmen Sandiego. Seriously, wasn't anyone paying attention?

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