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Space Science

The Sun's 'Quiet Period' Explained 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the ra-needs-naps-too dept.
Arvisp writes with this excerpt from the BBC: "Solar physicists may have discovered why the Sun recently experienced a prolonged period of weak activity. The most recent so-called 'solar minimum' occurred in December 2008. Its drawn-out nature extended the total length of the last solar cycle — the repeating cycle of the Sun's activity — to 12.6 years, making it the longest in almost 200 years. The new research suggests that the longer-than-expected period of weak activity may have been linked to changes in the way a hot soup of charged particles called plasma circulated in the Sun."
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The Sun's 'Quiet Period' Explained

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  • Oblig: (Score:3, Funny)

    by lul_wat (1623489) on Monday August 16, 2010 @02:59PM (#33266720)
    You want solar maximum? No soup for you !
  • hot soup? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:00PM (#33266726) Homepage

    the way a hot soup of charged particles called plasma circulated in the Sun.

    This is slashdot, not preschool. You can use your big-boy words with us.

  • Inactivity? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anarki2004 (1652007) on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:06PM (#33266800) Homepage Journal
    What's this nonsense about inactivity? The most recent java update I can find is July 7, 2010. What's that? You mean there's more than one sun?
  • by Zeek40 (1017978) on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:11PM (#33266860)
    Generally after I've spent a night spewing out hot liquids and gasses, I need a day or two to sleep it off. I can imagine plasma makes for an even worse hangover.
    • by MBGMorden (803437)

      I thought I could relate until you said hangover. It's typically the local Mexican food truck that gets me spewing hot liquids and gases. It's a good kind of hurt though (I guess anyways. For some reason I keep ending up there 2-3 times per week). Damned Al Pastor Tortas . . .

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      The above is exactly why I keep asking for a "TMI" moderator category.

    • I can imagine plasma makes for an even worse hangover.

      right. and that's why people are moving away from plasma and toward lcd.

      oh. wait.

  • I had just put this town to Oracle's takeover of The Sun. Guess that's why I'm not an astronomer.
  • by Mikkeles (698461) on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:13PM (#33266894)

    '... may have been linked to changes in the way a hot soup of charged particles called plasma circulated in the Sun.

    So why did the "hot soup of charged particles called plasma" change in the way that they circulated?

    • by sznupi (719324)

      To score on 2012? Turns out the clock was running a little fast after all those millenia...

      (seriously - it would be interesting if the observed solar cycle is, more or less, a result of interfence of few underlying ones; for starters, the Sun is a bit flattened, so propagation times of various disturbances might very well differ depending on direction; and if they interact... )

    • From wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

      Although the underlying equations governing plasmas are relatively simple, plasma behavior is extraordinarily varied and subtle: the emergence of unexpected behavior from a simple model is a typical feature of a complex system. Such systems lie in some sense on the boundary between ordered and disordered behavior and cannot typically be described either by simple, smooth, mathematical functions, or by pure randomness.

    • "Why" is the question that children repeatedly ask until adults get bored. All science can do is move one step at a time, answering one set of questions so that the next set of "why"s are visible.

      Ultimately you get back to "god did it" or "everything exploded from nothing". Neither of which are enlightening.

       

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        "everything exploded from nothing"

        Dude, you need to watch more science tv, scientists are working on that as we speak. That "everything from nothing" problem affects a lot more than just the origins of the universe - it basically breaks physics, so theoretical physicists are desperate to figure out the solution. So far, the best explanation seems to be string theory, and that there are a lot more than just the one universe and the four dimensions. It's gaining ground because it seems to fix the standard model - that was actually what it

        • it basically breaks physics, so theoretical physicists are desperate to figure out the solution.

          This is exactly it.

          Paraphrasing to make it fit, from Footfall...

          "Everything exploded from nothing? Doesn't that violate the laws of physics?" / "I'm sure the universe is doing everything right. We just don't understand it yet."

  • Probably Photino birds [wikipedia.org] wreaking havoc with the sun.
  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:20PM (#33266956)

    The headline, and the first few paragraphs make it sound like this is a solved problem: theories were proposed, experiments were done, results were verified and a conclusion was concluded.

    Instead, what actually happened is completely murky. There is no mention of which satellites were used to gather data, or which organization collected it, or how data was used to support the conclusions. It seems that some people ran some computer simulations where they could replicate the current cycle by changing some parameters of the solar conveyor belt. But that's a guess, because the article says nothing. And to really make the article useless, there's the obligatory counter-point from a random scientist who says something completely different, again without any explanation of why.

    Journalists ought to learn that science reporting is not like Entertainment or even Politics reporting. It doesn't really matter who said what, but only why they say and how they came to the conclusions. I'm not holding my breath though.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The headline, and the first few paragraphs make it sound like this is a solved problem: theories were proposed, experiments were done, results were verified and a conclusion was concluded.

      Well, it's kind of hard to do experiments on the Sun. This is one of the problems with the idea that a lot of people seem to have, usually based on half-remembered lessons from high school "science" class, that there's thing called "the scientific method." There isn't; there are a whole bunch of scientific methods, all more or less related but difffering from field to field. Observational sciences such as astronomy must by the nature of the field use different methods from experimental sciences such as,

      • No shit it's hard to do experiments on the sun. That's why there are laboratories that replicate specific parts of the sun's physics, satellites that collect data and things like the Ice cube experiment. Even astronomy isn't done completely in the dark with no experiments.

        May...suggests.... could be... Those are called weasel words for a reason. In this case, they are weasel words because they cover the complete absence of any evidence for the conclusion. The weasel words do not cover that fact. Furthermore

      • by sznupi (719324)

        You forgot to mention how there also was a bit of a counter-point.

        Did GP even read TFA? (uhm, yeah, silly me...)

      • Well, it's kind of hard to do experiments on the Sun.

        NASA [wikipedia.org] and The ESA [wikipedia.org] wish to disagree with you. Well, okay, in your defense those weren't particularly 'easy' by any definition of the word. The point, however, is that we've been experimenting on the sun (or, at least using observed data to experiment with our models) for awhile now.

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Monday August 16, 2010 @05:14PM (#33268262)

          The GP is confusing observation, which is the first component of the scientific method, with experimentation, which is a technique for initiating the repetition of the conditions to allow for more observations.

          The Sun currently cannot be experimented on, but to say you cannot perform observations, measure those observations, or repeat those observations and measurements, is patently absurd and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the very core of all science.

          If it cannot be observed, it cannot be science. Period. There is no other option. If it cannot be measured, it cannot be science. Period. If it never repeats and cannot be made to repeat it cannot be science. Period. An experiment is nothing more than forcing the repetition of the conditions to allow for another observation and measurement. It's not at all necessary for science.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by way2slo (151122)

        ... This is one of the problems with the idea that a lot of people seem to have, usually based on half-remembered lessons from high school "science" class, that there's thing called "the scientific method." There isn't; there are a whole bunch of scientific methods, all more or less related but difffering from field to field. Observational sciences such as astronomy must by the nature of the field use different methods from experimental sciences such as, say, microbiology. ...

        Differing, yes. The fields where experimentation is possible we can have confidence in the results. Experiments are done and theories are put to the test. The fields were experimentation is difficult or impossible we are stuck with having theories that happen to fit what facts we have. Sometimes, not even that. Sometimes, it is a theory because it "feels" right because it is abstracted several times from anything resembling a fact. That is a good thing as long as we understand that tomorrow it could

        • You aren't describing theories; you're describing hypotheses. Nothing should be called a theory without repeatable experiments that can confirm the predictions.
      • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Monday August 16, 2010 @05:06PM (#33268166)

        There isn't; there are a whole bunch of scientific methods, all more or less related but difffering from field to field.

        There is only one scientific method: observe, measure, repeat. All those "different" scientific methods are simply different techniques used to follow each of those steps. The steps themselves never change.

        For example, it may be currently impossible to perform experiments on the Sun. That does not mean the scientific method does not apply. The scientific method says nothing about performing experiments - it says make an observation, measure what you observed, and repeat the observation. You can do this by simply watching the sun through a telescope. Patterns emerge, and there are reasons for those patterns. You develop theories that should allow you to predict what will happen next - the closer your theory is to correct, the more accurate your predictions will reflect your observations. This is the scientific method being used to further our understanding of the universe. It's how we know so damned much about it, and how we know there is a whole lot more that we don't know about it.

        This is how all science works. Experimental scientists have the luxury of repeating their observations at will, which scientists who cannot perform experiments on their subjects don't have the luxury of doing, but that in no way means one group is using a fundamentally different scientific method. Reality couldn't be further from the truth.

    • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail. c o m> on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:38PM (#33267152) Homepage

      Journalists don't have a clue. Which is why from law to science reporting is garbage. From why fruit flies die so quickly, to anything in relation to climate or weather, to why bad guy X got 5yrs in jail for insert crime here. From a lawish point of view let me add this, every once and awhile I spend time in court being a witness for this, or that, or something else. There's always some reporter, from some news agency there if it's anything big. I will tell you now, if I wasn't in the court myself, I'd have no clue that the article I was reading had any relation to the case, if my name wasn't in there somewhere.

      That's how far removed reporting is from reality these days.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        "these days"?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Mashiki (184564)

          "these days"?

          Yes, these days. That would be 20 years or so. There was a point back in the 80's when what was reported actually reflected the events in hand. Things got better after the 70's, and hit shit again in the 90's.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by sznupi (719324)

            You look at the past through rose colored glasses. In the past there was even no real way to verify most of the news at all (which probably affects how "reliable" it felt). Solid reporting has never been so easily accessible as it is today (many prople of course don't care / ignore it, but it's there)

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              Well no, it's actually easier to figure out how and where reporting went to crap. Here's my challenge to you, goto your local library and go look up cases from the late 70's through the 90's. Then go read the news articles, or watch the archived TV broadcasts and see what happens. You'll notice a very subtle n style correction in the media.

              I'd actually argue that reporting has gotten worse as media today lives in the "report hard, die fast" era. Where if you don't have the story regardless of circumstan

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fantom42 (174630)

      Journalists ought to learn that science reporting is not like Entertainment or even Politics reporting. It doesn't really matter who said what, but only why they say and how they came to the conclusions. I'm not holding my breath though.

      Well, the summary is worse than the article in those respects. For something like the BBC, the audience cares less about the methods and more about the conclusions. That said, it doesn't excuse reporting of incorrect conclusions.

    • by Dalambertian (963810) on Monday August 16, 2010 @04:14PM (#33267564)
      The paper is actually a lot clearer than the press surrounding it. http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2010/2010GL044143.shtml [agu.org] FTFAbstract:

      Plasma flowing poleward at the solar surface and returning equatorward near the base of the convection zone, called the meridional circulation, constitutes the Sun's conveyor-belt. Just as the Earth's great oceanic conveyor-belt carries thermal signatures that determine El Nino events, the Sun's conveyor-belt determines timing, amplitude and shape of a solar cycle in flux-transport type dynamos. In cycle 23, the Sun's surface poleward meridional flow extended all the way to the pole, while in cycle 22 it switched to equatorward near 60. Simulations from a flux-transport dynamo model including these observed differences in meridional circulation show that the transport of dynamo-generated magnetic flux via the longer conveyor-belt, with slower return-flow in cycle 23 compared to that in cycle 22, may have caused the longer duration of cycle 23.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Geirzinho (1068316)

      I totally agree with you, this is too insubstantial even for science reporting.

      The article is at adsabs, but it's on subscription only:
      http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2010GeoRL..3714107D [harvard.edu]

      Maybe someone with a subscription to "Geophysical Research Letters" could voice an opinion?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Actually, Politics reporting would be vastly improved if they would report it more like you would like them to report science news. You know instead of "People really seem to like Joe Schmoe's position on TOPIC OF THE DAY. According to the latest poll he is pulling ahead of John Doe after trailing him for the last month," they could say, "Joe Schmoe has released a detailed proposal on TOPIC OF THE DAY. He says that he would propose THIS APPROACH to dealing with this issue. Meanwhile, John Doe has said that
  • by blair1q (305137) on Monday August 16, 2010 @03:20PM (#33266964) Journal

    may have been linked to changes in the way a hot soup of charged particles called plasma circulated in the Sun

    Um, yeah, and the recent heat wave in the western part of the U.S. may have been linked to changes in the way a hot soup of particles called atoms circulated in the atmosphere...

    Seriously. /. needs to stop voting dreck into the stream and start doing real story selection and summary editing. Because the value added per editorial second is dropping like a rock.

    • Don't you mean, dropping like it's a hot bowl of soup?

    • by thelenm (213782)

      Solar physicists have also threatened to melt every city on earth with liquid hot "plasma" unless we give them... one million dollars!

  • that this had something to do with an IPO?

  • Recent increases in electricity generated by solar power.

    Prolonged Solar minimum.

    Is nobody else seeing the Correlation here? Solar panels are stripping the sun of it's plasma-soup.

  • What I want to know is when its time to key up the 10 meter rig

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