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Space Sun Microsystems Science

The Sun's Odd Behavior 285

Posted by Soulskill
from the to-be-fair-it-was-a-little-tipsy dept.
gyrogeerloose writes "Most of us know about the sun's eleven-year activity cycle. However, relatively few other than scientists (and amateur radio operators) are aware that the current solar minimum has lasted much longer than expected. The last solar cycle, Cycle 24, bottomed out in 2008, and Cycle 25 should be well on its way towards maximum by now, but the sun has remained unusually quiescent with very few sunspots. While solar physicists agree that this is odd, the explanation remains elusive."
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The Sun's Odd Behavior

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:14PM (#32389800)

    This is clear to everyone except the Denialists.

    • by binarylarry (1338699) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:26PM (#32389908)

      No it's worse than that.

      ITS GALACTIC WARMING!

      We're doomed, the end is nigh!

      • by Bing Tsher E (943915) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:37PM (#32389994) Journal

        Worse yet, it's Anthrogenic Galactic Warming. It's all the fault of Western Civilization.

        *pounds on bongo drum in protest*

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by davester666 (731373)

          The aliens realized we could hack their systems using TCP/IP, so instead they are just going to slowly boil us off the planet, then reduce the temperature and take all the resources after we die.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Not to break off this delightful train of thought, but the problem is that the sun is getting cooler. A lot cooler. It's magnetic field is looking dismal. It hasn't thrown a single plane even slightly off course for years, when predictions were it should have caused at least a few disasters by now (at it's higher intensities it can block radio communcations for weeks, make every compass useless (including ill-shielded gyroscopic ones, so it can even make the instruments in older planes miss where the ground

      • by WED Fan (911325)

        We're doomed, the end is night !

        There, corrected it for you.

      • by kheldan (1460303)

        ITS GALACTIC WARMING!

        So when they speak of the eventual "heat death" of the Universe, it's not what you think it is?

      • de Vries Cycle? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dammy (131759)

        We are currently over do for the de Vries (Suess) 205-210 year cycle. Hopefully it will just be a Dalton Minimum...

    • by clarkkent09 (1104833) * on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:45PM (#32390060)
      Don't you know that plants have been using the Sun's energy for millions of years, no wonder there is nothing left! The solution is simple: burn the forests.
      • by Shikaku (1129753) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:04PM (#32390188)

        No, the sun isn't having its cycle because it's pregnant. DUH.

        (Also am I the only one who thought Sun as in the company?)

        • The Nagas of Upper Burma believe that the Sun shines by day, because, being a woman, she is afraid to come out at night.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I thought The Sun, as in the newspaper.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by TheRaven64 (641858)

          Also am I the only one who thought Sun as in the company?

          Given that the Sun logo appears along side the story, I'd imagine that at least one Slashdot editor had the same thought...

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Burning down all the forests just deals with the leaf inflation problem. Then you end up needing to send all your useless robots off to make planetary toupees.

      • by Xyrus (755017)

        Can someone please go and tell Chuck Norris to stop terrorizing the sun?

  • Enough data? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fenring (1582541) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:16PM (#32389826)
    I almost know nothing on the subject, but I'm thinking the 11 year cycle was empiricaly determined. One has to wonder do we have enough data on the subject compared to the age of the sun?
    • Re:Enough data? (Score:5, Informative)

      by quanticle (843097) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:23PM (#32389882) Homepage

      Its a good point, but, ever since Galileo observed that there were sunspots, scientists have observed the sun to be on a fairly regular 11 year cycle of maxima and minima. So, until now, the scientific consensus was that the 11 year cycle was due to some kind of underlying fluctuation in the sun itself. Now that theory has to be revised (or maybe even rejected entirely) as this prolonged solar minimum continues.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Or maybe there some longer cycle of...cycles ;) With the Sun now manifesting a shift of this ubercycle, which will give "short" cycle of different lenght.

        • by clintp (5169) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:04PM (#32390194)

          Or maybe there some longer cycle of...cycles ;) With the Sun now manifesting a shift of this ubercycle, which will give "short" cycle of different lenght.

          Epicycles! Ptolemy was right, just not about the planets.

        • Re:Enough data? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by The Hatchet (1766306) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:34PM (#32390394)

          Well, all this time we have known about different cycles, but we don't know why they happen. That is a problem. The sun is really just a huge fucking fusion reactor, and having any kind of regularity is confusing. When we understand the layers, processes, and everything else about the sun, it might make a bit more sense.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by RSKennan (835119)
            We clearly don't know enough about the sun. It's too bad no one's thought of a way to take core samples...

            I've got it. If we could only place some sort of "rig" on the sun, with a kind of "pipe"...we could pump solar material to Earth for further study.

            I know what you're saying. The Sun's really, really hot. We could pump the solar plasma to a place that was already used to warmth. Like, say the Gulf coast of the US.

            Someone make me the president of something.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by the_bard17 (626642)

              So then you end up having a leak or a big bad explosion, so that the "rig" "sinks"? Then you spend over a month trying to solve the problem while the Sun leaks all over the world?

              No thanks. The oil leak in the Gulf is bad enough. I don't to see what happens when we hand you the Sun and a really big pipe.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by RSKennan (835119)
                Wow. I never thought of it that way. Sorry guys.

                Someone call the Nobel committee and tell them that the deal's off, and the teamsters who were planning to start work on Monday to tell them that Christmas is going to suck again this year. Kids need to learn that.

                You're a hard man, doing hard things, the_bard. I respect you for making this decision. Could you break it to 'lil Barak Obama though? I just keep thinking about how his eyes lit up when I told him my plan... and I don't have the heart.
        • Re:Enough data? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by X0563511 (793323) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @03:42PM (#32390948) Homepage Journal

          So perhaps there are two (or more) close, but different, mechanisms at place - and the resulting interference gives us the large cycles.

          Think about what happens when you combine a 440Hz tone with a 439.5Hz tone.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by gstoddart (321705)

            Think about what happens when you combine a 440Hz tone with a 439.5Hz tone.

            It goes all the way to 11?

        • Wait. Which b'ak'tun [wikipedia.org] are we in again? Time to invent an enormous stone time machine and bug out, folks. LOL.

          --
          Toro

      • by inKubus (199753)

        Maybe time is speeding up.

      • Re:Enough data? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Bobke (653185) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:15PM (#32390282)

        That is not entirely correct. There is a period after Galileo's discovery called the Maunder Minimum where sunspots "became exceedingly rare", from wikipedia:

        The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) is the name used for the period roughly spanning 1645 to 1715 by John A. Eddy in a landmark 1976 paper published in Science titled "The Maunder Minimum",[1] when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunder_Minimum [wikipedia.org]

        So, is it really odd behavior?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by BitZtream (692029)

          We define odd as anything we haven't witnessed directly before.

          Global warming is a prime example. Theres plenty of scientific evidence that we're in just another normal cycle and the heat isn't even close to being abnormal, but since we've never actually witnessed them directly, certain groups of people freak out and think the end of the world is near.

      • Re:Enough data? (Score:5, Informative)

        by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @04:51PM (#32391662) Journal

        ...ever since Galileo observed that there were sunspots, scientists have observed the sun to be on a fairly regular 11 year cycle of maxima and minima...

        Where did that "fairly regular" assertion come from?
        The cycle is on average just under 11 years in duration, but is somewhat irregular. Individual cycles have varied between 9 and 14 years in duration in the couple of dozen cycles for which adequate observations are available. See http://www.infiniteunknown.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/sunspot-observations.png [infiniteunknown.net] or http://odin.physastro.mnsu.edu/~eskridge/astr102/bfly.gif [mnsu.edu] for example. The variations in sunspot cycle duration do not appear to be related in any simple way to the variations in amplitude.

      • Re:Enough data? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by pz (113803) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @06:21PM (#32392394) Journal

        ... the scientific consensus was that the 11 year cycle was due to some kind of underlying fluctuation in the sun itself. Now that theory has to be revised (or maybe even rejected entirely) as this prolonged solar minimum continues.

        I would seriously doubt that anyone is questioning whether the fluctuations are from an internal process.

        We can barely -- barely -- predict weather on the *surface* of our globe for a period of a few days. We can't even accurately predict how many storms there will be in a given cyclone / hurricane season yet, and that's one of the biggest periodic features. To say that we have a good enough understanding (and therefore can predict) what amounts to three dimensional weather in a volume six orders of magnitude larger than the earth to be able to predict even the coarsest features to eleven years is mistaken hubris at best.

        We have a few hundred years' worth of sunspot observation. Is it so shocking to think that there might be patterns that are on a longer timescale than our stretch of observations would reveal? Personally, I see no reason to think that the underlying mechanism is not still entirely within the sun. It certainly might be the case that it is due to external influences, but it would seem improbable.

    • I almost know nothing on the subject, but I'm thinking the 11 year cycle was empiricaly determined. One has to wonder do we have enough data on the subject compared to the age of the sun?

      Why in the world would we need 5 BILLION years of data to make wild speculation about the various Sun cycles?!?!?!

      Oh, wait... they actually dont think it's just wild speculation, do they? Ah well. Yeah, in that case, I agree with you. a few hundred years of data is a drop in the bucket compared to the Sun's current age.

      • Why in the world would we need 5 BILLION years of data to make wild speculation about the various Sun cycles?!?!?!

        Oh, wait... they actually dont think it's just wild speculation, do they? Ah well. Yeah, in that case, I agree with you. a few hundred years of data is a drop in the bucket compared to the Sun's current age.

        How exactly was the age of the sun determined? By what empirical data?

        • Two Techniques (Score:5, Informative)

          by Roger W Moore (538166) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @04:13PM (#32391248) Journal
          Off the top of my head I can think of two ways to put a firm upper and lower boundary on the sun's age:
          • Upper bound from the ratio of U235 and U238. In supernovae these are produced in roughly equal quantities and each has a half life measured in billions of years. Currently the Uranium on Earth is about 99.3% U-238 and 0.7% U-235 so, using the different half-lives, you can calculate the age of the supernovae which preceded the solar systems formation as about 6 billion years ago so the sun must be younger than this.
          • Lower bound from the age of the Earth itself. Again radio dating techniques used on rocks put the age of the planet as about 4.5 billion years so the sun must be older than this.

          Combine this with simulations about how long it would take an Earth sized mass to form an cool and you can probably come up with reasonably accurate value for the age of the sun. Of course this is just off the top of my head - there may be better and more accurate techniques which geologists and astophysicists have developed.

          • Re:Two Techniques (Score:4, Interesting)

            by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:45PM (#32393492)

            Upper bound from the ratio of U235 and U238. In supernovae these are produced in roughly equal quantities and each has a half life measured in billions of years.

            How do you know that U235 and U238 are produced in roughly equal abundance? This is not generally true of isotopes of other elements. I'm a little doubtful that the production rates can be derived accurately enough from theory to produce a useful age limit.

            The amount of helium in the Sun provides a limit on the total energy it has radiated, assuming we're right about how fusion works. Combine that with the observed total radiation of the Sun and you can get what I think is a better crude limit on the Sun's age. You can do better by dating certain meteorites, which appear to have been created at about the same time as the Sun.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:17PM (#32389834)

    All these solar power devices are using the sun up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kestasjk (933987) *
      Seriously though; supposing (just because we're being crazy and ridiculous) that global warming is happening, wouldn't it be a concern that the next solar cycle will be starting later, reducing only the short-term effects of a problem that is only significant in the long-term (and without delaying/decreasing those long-term effects)?

      Put another way: Supposing the temperature is going to be X degrees higher by 2YYY, wouldn't it be much better for the increase to be steady and predictable?
      • Re:Anthropomorphic (Score:4, Insightful)

        by a2wflc (705508) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @04:14PM (#32391250)

        some (many) pro-agw people have been saying for a couple of years that man-made co2 has caused temps to increase but the lack of solar activity has negated the increase so we don't see an increase in measured temps. People who want agw to be true say "yeah, that sounds good". People on the other side say "that's convenient". Fortunately there are scientists on both sides who say "this needs to be explained and tested (empirically as well as with models"

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Abcd1234 (188840)

          some (many) pro-agw people have been saying for a couple of years that man-made co2 has caused temps to increase but the lack of solar activity has negated the increase so we don't see an increase in measured temps.

          Pity that statement is, itself, simply false. This was the warmest decade on record, period. Furthermore, most of the warmest years occurred in the last ten years. Can you cherry-pick you results to find outliers in the 90s, so as to make the current decade look not so bad? Sure. But that's

        • Re:Anthropomorphic (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Alef (605149) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @08:38PM (#32393454)

          some (many) pro-agw people have been saying for a couple of years that man-made co2 has caused temps to increase but the lack of solar activity has negated the increase so we don't see an increase in measured temps.

          But we are seeing an increase [wikipedia.org] in temperature [wikipedia.org].

          People who want agw to be true say "yeah, that sounds good".

          I don't think anyone in their right mind wants AGW to be happening.

  • In conclusion... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by quanticle (843097)

    We all know that something's up, but we have no idea what the underlying phenomena are, so we have not a clue as to why the sun is behaving the way it is.

    Well, its good to see that there are still mysteries left in the universe.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:20PM (#32389862) Journal
    I don't know, you'd think a massive ball of fusion fire wouldn't need warning signs, but apparently some joker still managed to break it. For future reference, the Sun does not contain any user-servicable parts. Please try to remember this, or you will invalidate the warranty.
  • 2012 (Score:2, Funny)

    by mederbil (1756400)
    I see what's going on here. The Mayan were right!
  • by Daetrin (576516) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:24PM (#32389900)
    On the one hand, outside the kind of geeky population represented by slashdot, I really doubt a lot of people know about the 11 year cycle. On the other hand, I've seen othee articles about the recent abnormally low period, and the subect also seems to come up frequently on the recurring global warming debate that seems to crop up in every third article. (Which isn't to say that more information about the subject isn't wanted of course.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mashiki (184564)

      We had an extreme low solar output about 400 years ago too, and no one has a clue what caused that. Except most of the world was an ice cube at the time. Now for those of us here in Ontario, we're in a mini-heatwave. But the rest of the country? Below average, last I heard even the easties were hoping for spring to start, they're still getting snow.

      • by Abcd1234 (188840)

        Now for those of us here in Ontario, we're in a mini-heatwave. But the rest of the country? Below average, last I heard even the easties were hoping for spring to start, they're still getting snow.

        Uhuh. So? Local climate != global climate. And sadly:

        The decade of the 2000s (2000-2009) was warmer than the decade spanning the 1990s (1990-1999), which in turn was warmer than the 1980s (1980-1989).

        Citation [wmo.int].

        But, hey, who wants to look at actual facts, when looking out the window is, like, totally scientific a

    • by Torodung (31985)

      I've certainly seen material about the low sunspot activity. It's just fascinating to live in an age where the things that are supposed to be predictable, aren't.

      Those sorts of anomalies sometimes lead to discovery (through comparison). It'll be fun to keep an eye on the work regarding this solar irregularity. In fact, at the risk of injecting my personal politics into this, I propose we give all the money that's going to study of global warming to people studying this, because it's probably a lot more rele

  • Conspiracy! (Score:4, Funny)

    by ultranova (717540) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:27PM (#32389928)

    The explanation is simple: the Sun is actually getting hotter, but the climatologists, in their conspiracy to frame things like the Earth was getting warmer due to greenhouse gasses, have forged all records to make it seem like the Sun was at low activity instead. That way the warming climate is blamed on human activity.

    I will consider all replies and downmods to this post as further evidence of the Anthropogenic Global Warming Conspiracy. If you disagree with me, you're obvilously a paid chill or a poor, deluded fool. Or maybe you're just an evil ecoterrorist who wants to destroy our economy despite knowing better.

    Go on, conspirators! Give me your best shot!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:33PM (#32389962)

    because Sun was acquired by Oracle.

  • by amn108 (1231606) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:35PM (#32389980)

    The Sun has better and more important things to do than to adhere to our primitive line of thought.

    The following analogy comes to mind:

    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/the_search.png [xkcd.com]

  • Easy to fix (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:36PM (#32389984)

    Odd, I just met a an eccentric young man with a bow tie, tweed jacket and braces. He owned a small wooden blue box (about the size of a beach hut) and he said that this was a harbinger of doom and that the sun would go out if he didn't do something about it. He dashed off with a pretty young female in tow....but it's pretty cold and overcast now, so maybe the end is nigh!

  • by Alrescha (50745) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:37PM (#32389988)

    Over the past few hundred years, the solar cycle has regularly varied from as short as 9 years to as long as 14*. The tone of the summary (and the S.A. article) make this sound as if it is a new thing.

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_cycles [wikipedia.org]

    A.

  • Preggers? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ogive17 (691899) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:43PM (#32390048)
    If the sun missed it's last "cycle", maybe one of the "probes" used to "explore" forgot to use adequate "shielding" and now the sun is pregnant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dunbal (464142) *

      That would certainly add a whole different line of thought as to how stars are born. I guess we'll have to wait for the offspring to see who the likely parent was. I'm looking at YOU, Jupiter...

  • ""Most of us know about the sun's eleven-year activity cycle."[citation needed]

  • by dmomo (256005) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:58PM (#32390144) Homepage

    When James Gosling left.

  • gota be it. The global warming refracted too many of the sun's rays back, and stopped the core of the sun. Any day now, it will be a red giant, and we'll just be swallowed up by it (when it expands this far, natch).

  • by MikeV (7307) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:03PM (#32390184)

    Darn, someone beat me to the punchline. So. Did anyone check to see if it's still plugged in?

  • Should we start building Magellan? And who gets on board? A good chance to get rid of all those telephone sanitizers, you know.
  • Obviously, the Imperium has struck a deal with the Darrians to destabilize the Solomani Confederation by striking at the capital system.

    Sorry, had to be done.

  • ... for the solar explosion in 2012 that wipes out all life. Mayan calendar FTW!

  • If you want a solar story that adds a bit more mystery to the rehash of the current solar tale in the linked article, google up Livingston and Penn about the observations that the sunspot frequency is diminishing. In the past, the solar flux would match up to the sunspot number closely. Beginning some twenty some odd years ago, this century long curve matching parted ways. To sum up the mystery, in ten years time, solar cycles will continue. It's just there won't be any more sunspots. (a little hyperbole,

  • I live in Seattle. What is this 'sun' you speak of?
  • by Retron (577778) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @03:02PM (#32390620)
    One of my hobbies is meteorology and as I'm in the UK there's no shortage of discussion about the weather!

    Over on the various weather forums we've been discussing the solar minimum for the past couple of years, as in the UK at least there's a strong correlation between climatic cold spells and low sunspot activity (the Little Ice Age a few hundred years ago coincided with the Maunder minimum, for example). There was another minimum in the early 1800s, again coinciding with a colder period in the UK climate. It was during this time that Charles Dickens popularised the idea of a White Christmas, something which hasn't occured in 40 years here (30 miles east of London).

    The effects are pretty immediate in climating terms, with an onset of years rather than decades. Although yes, the Sun's becoming more active there's been a lot of discussion as to whether the low solar activity was responsible for the coldest winter in 17 years in England (and longer than that in Scotland).

    The Sun's effect on the climate is probably beyond any numerical weather prediction models at the moment but it'd be fascinating to see what the effects would be if we were to experience a prolonged period of much lower solar activity than normal!
  • "What's not so gratifying is we have no clue why any of these effects are happening."

    Well, it's not like they had any clue before as to why there was an eleven years' cycle, so the situation hasn't changed that much.

  • and you'll know what needs to be done:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT8bGxFu4wA [youtube.com]
  • Reminds me of Flare* by Zelazny/Thomas: the unnaturally quiet sun bodes ill.

    *not a recommendation of the novel, esp. for Zelazny fans.
  • Maybe it's an 11 year cycle on top of a 400 year cycle. Maybe there's a number of cycles at work with odd harmonics and resonances that will appear from time to time.
  • When things get really quiet, isn't that just before it all goes horribly wrong?
  • Jupiters late missing spot :)
  • The Sun's sunspots actually have many periods. ~11 yrs, ~22, ~87, ~210, ~2300, ~6000 yrs. The overall sunspot count is a combination of these periods. So where are we in all of these cycles?

    Sunspots are actually cold spots on the Sun's "surface" (photosphere). The Sun has many other layers (core, radiative, convective, photosphere, chromosphere, corona). I am sure that each layer has it's own phenomenon, with their own periodicities. Each layer, its features, and their periodicities, influence the layers ar

  • The reason. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Cr0vv (1223332) <chrismwakefield&gmail,com> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:15PM (#32393958)
    The reason why the Sun's cycle is lasting longer than expected has been known by the astronomers and astrophysicists for many years, it's just that there is a news blackout on the subject. Have you also noticed that we have had record breaking weather around the World now for several years? Now, there is a gag order on reporting the weather records being broken. How about the Volcanoes, have you noticed the increase? I'm not just talking about Eyjafjallajoekull in Iceland, there 2 now active in Ecuador right now alone. How about the sensational (unexplained) sky swirl in Norway? Odd, don't you think? What's up with the Sink holes in the Eastern U.S. and how about the melting glaciers and pole ice? These and many more unusual Earth events are happening but the public doesn't really get to find out, as the USGS, U.S.Navy or NASA control your access to the information. Please, don't bother with the IOCC status quo pablum they've been pushing for years. Do you think that C.C. is gonna explain the Norway? The Volcanoes now? Take that out of the equation. I've been telling this story since '08, it is a highly magnetic small brown dwarf in the solar system with it's South pole pointed at the Sun for the last few years sucking out the magnetron particles and softening the Sun's normal cycle. Soon it will break free of the ecliptic, and Slashdot will be no more. Survivable though. subscribe [gmail.com] to my newsletter to get the details. Chris Thomas.

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