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Space Science

"All Quiet Alert" Issued For the Sun 463

radioweather writes "The phrase sounds like an oxymoron, and maybe it is, but the sun is extremely quiet right now, so much in fact that the Solar Influences Data Center in Belgium issued an unusual 'All quiet alert' on October 5th. Since then the sunspot number has remained at zero — solar cycle 24 has not yet started. There are signs that the sun's activity is slowing. The solar wind has been decreasing in speed, and this is yet another indicator of a slowing in the sun's magnetic dynamo. There is talk of an extended solar minimum occurring. There are a number of theories and a couple of dozen predictions about the intensity solar cycle 24 which has yet to start. One paper by Penn & Livingstonin in 2006 concludes: 'If [trends] continue to decrease at the current rate then the number of sunspots in the next solar cycle (cycle 24) would be reduced by roughly half, and there would be very few sunspots visible on the disk during cycle 25.' We'll know more in about six months what the sun decides to do for cycle 24."
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"All Quiet Alert" Issued For the Sun

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  • Sunspot numbers (Score:5, Informative)

    by lecithin ( 745575 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:05PM (#21000901)

    Here is a nice graph that shows sunspot data from 1620 to 2000

    http://spaceweather.com/glossary/sunspotnumber.html [spaceweather.com]

    We can see that this isn't anything new.

    BTW - If you are interested in Auroras, keep watch on the 18th-19th. We are about to get hit with a solar wind stream.
    • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:08PM (#21000955) Homepage Journal
      And get Al Gore on the phone, now!

      We must take immediate and drastic steps to fight Global Darkening!

      Maybe we can get that Kim Stanley Robinson person to write a book? 70 Days of Night?

      • by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:21PM (#21001109)
        I see you, and several others in the comments, making connections to sunspots and global warming. There really isn't one, or rather, it's the opposite of what you'd think. The more sunspots the sun has, the hotter it gets. Indeed a prolonged period of low sunspot activity is one of the (unproven, competing) theories on what caused the Little Ice Age.

        So, if you want to draw a conclusion on this, if the sunspots are low, and the earth is still getting hotter... that means we really are getting hotter (disclaimer: sunspot numbers go up and down all the time in regular cycles. Global Warming is a very long term trend that is going up over several sunspot cycles. You can't really draw a conclusion on global warming based on a short term sunspot activity. I'm just saying, if you really wanted to draw one, that'd be it).
        • No, I am drawing a link between the article and humor. Try and keep up.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          Sunspots cool the suns surface though, so no.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Hardhead_7 ( 987030 )

            Since sunspots are dark it might be expected that more sunspots lead to less solar radiation and a decreased solar constant. However, the surrounding areas are brighter and the overall effect is that more sunspots means a brighter sun. The variation caused by the sunspot cycle to solar output is relatively small, of the order of 0.1% of the solar constant (a peak-to-trough range of 1.3 W m-2 compared to 1366 W m-2 for the average solar constant)[2][3]. This range is slightly smaller than the change in radiative forcing caused by the increase in atmospheric CO2 since the 18th century[4]. During the Maunder Minimum in the 17th Century there were hardly any sunspots at all. This coincides with a period of cooling known as the Little Ice Age. It has been speculated that there may be a resonant gravitational link between a photospheric tidal force from the planets, the dominant component by summing gravitational tidal force (75%) being Jupiter's with an 11 year cycle[5].

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunspot [wikipedia.org]

          • by ZombieWomble ( 893157 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:43PM (#21001461)
            Sunspots are local areas of cooling on the solar surface. However, a less immediately obvious but highly significant factor is that the area around sunspots is warmer than the natural solar temperature. The net result is an increase in total solar output during times of high sunspot activity. Thus there is a positive correlation between sunspot activity and the energy which is delivered to earth. I'm lazy and can't immediately find a better reference than the relevant Wikipedia page [wikipedia.org], but I'm sure someone with more diligence could dig up something better.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by rpseguin ( 167471 )
              Sunspots are areas of intense magnetic field concentration that suppress local convection in the area, and are thus are relatively cooler and darker than the surrounding area.

              Sunspots correspond to the amount of magnetic activity, which is the major driving force behind activity (flares, CMEs, filament eruptions, ...).

              (I work in the field)
            • As I understand a recent theory:
              - Sunspots are associated with increased solar wind and coronal mass ejections,
              - This improves the magnetic/plasma shielding of the earth from cosmic rays,
              - Which reduces the nucleation of water droplets,
              - Which reduces cloud cover,
              - Which reduces reflection of sunlight,
              and this reflection of sunlight totally swamps the minor change in the solar radiant output.

              When the sun goes through a prolonged period of no sunspots the result is eno
              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by Xonstantine ( 947614 )

                Seems to me an "All Quiet Alert" is appropriate. This could be the start of some significant global cooling.

                And that could be a problem.
                Not to worry, I just adjusted the carbeurator setting on my car to "extra sooty", and just for good measure I ate some beans and cabbage.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The more sunspots the sun has, the hotter it gets.

          Sorry, but we have a consensus of scientists to prove that the sun has NO effect on the Earths temperature. If the sun went cold overnight, the Earth would still be heating up due to global warming. The ONLY thing that affecting the Earths temperature is human activity. You need to keep up with Algore's speeches.
      • You Called?

        Now everybody listen carefully: GTFO my internet.
      • Someone alert the scientific community that sound from the sun used to travel through the luminiferous aether, but due to recent advances in physics the sun has fallen oddly silent! It's like a giant vacuum is sucking all the sound out of the sun!!!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I know you're joking, but there really IS a "Global Darkening" phenomenon, at least according to THIS [pbs.org] episode of NOVA.
      • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @05:28PM (#21002199)

        Global Darkening [wikipedia.org] is actually a moderate problem, though it's actually caused by particulate pollutants in the atmosphere, not sunspots. The amount of light energy reaching the Earth over the last hundred years has been dropping slowly, until recently, when it started going up again -- as dirty pollution has been regulated and replaced with "cleaner" CO2 pollution.

        There's a lot of concern among climatologists that global darkening has been masking the effects of global warming, and that as solar radiation on the surface goes up again, the effects of global warming might come upon us more severely and faster than our previous estimates.

    • Re:Sunspot numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by srmalloy ( 263556 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:22PM (#21001135) Homepage
      However, since the historical record shows that the worst part of the Little Ice Age occurred during the Maunder Minimum, when the sunspot level was also atypically low for a protracted period, then if the current conditions on the Sun continue for long enough, it should provide evidence that would either confirm or debunk the premise that global warming is a function of fluctuations in solar activity. Unfortunately, as the controversy has assumed the status of a holy war [jargondb.org], regardless of what happens, both sides will accuse the other of misinterpreting the data and persist in their claims.
      • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:46PM (#21001519) Homepage Journal
        Technically, only the global warming believers can persist in their claims in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
        The other side would be dead.
    • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) * <slashdot.kadin@x ... net minus author> on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:26PM (#21001197) Homepage Journal
      We think of sunspots as following a fixed, 11-year cycle, but this may only be one part of the story.

      I don't think the 'experts' necessarily know anything more at this point, either; just a few years ago, NASA was predicting that the next cycle would be the strongest ever, and that got a lot of people (especially folks that do a lot of shortwave/HF radio) very excited. Now, it looks like we may have a very small cycle, or no cycle at all -- it's anybody's guess.

      The dead spot on some sunspot charts from 1650-1700 is called the "Maunder Minimum". During that period, rather than talking about sunspots, observers of the day would write about the appearance of a particular sunspot (very much singular!). Unfortunately, the data prior to the beginning of the minimum is pretty sparse, and exactly when it started is under some dispute.

      There was also another minimum in the early 19th century, called the Dalton Minimum, although it wasn't as severe and it only lasted about 25 years.

      So that's two minima separated by a 150-year gap. But at 150 years after the 1800 minimum, rather than another minimum, we actually get a maximum in 1950. There's just not enough historical data to make a good prediction, because we don't know how complex the cycle is. But it's clearly more complex than just 11 years.

      I can't find a link to it online, but I heard a talk recently about a group that was using geological evidence to try and track the sunspot cycle further back than we have human observations. Not sure quite what the method is, or if it's yielded any results. But that would certainly be interesting, if you could get some real historical perspective instead of the piddling 7 centuries (at most) that you can find written records of. That might give us some idea of what's been going on, on very long timescales, as well as perhaps filling in the gaps in the historical record in more recent times (not sure what kind of resolution you can get).

      To use a water analogy, the 11-year cycles might be waves lapping at the shore, but there might be scores of other forces acting on them at higher levels, like tides, wind, and the seasons, all on vastly different time-scales.

      All in all, for something that we spend the majority of our waking lives under, our understanding of the sun is surprisingly poor. Particularly given how much modern technology (radio communications is the obvious one, but there are others) can be affected by the solar cycle, it seems to be ignored until it does something unexpected.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kannibul ( 534777 )
      Amazing - it happens to correspond with the temperature "fears" relating to Global Warming and Cooling.

      During the 60's and 70's, there was talk of a near-future Ice Age. During the 90's and today, there is talk of the ice caps melting and so on.

      • I'm guessing by your user ID that you've been here long enough to know how many different ways you're wrong (with such a short post, too!), but just in case:
        1. The "talk" of a near-future Ice Age was from a few scientists and was not supported by the mainstream. Just like the "talk" today that there's no anthropogenic global warming.
        2. The most recent sunspot minimum (2005) coincided with the hottest year ever recorded for our planet! (Or second-hottest, depending on which set of numbers you use. Also, just to
    • We just came out of a period of extremely active solar events so I'm not surprised that things have gotten quiet.
  • by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:05PM (#21000907)
    The number of sunspots hits a minimum as the globe warms up. Denials at 11.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by meringuoid ( 568297 )
      The number of sunspots hits a minimum as the globe warms up. Denials at 11.

      Specifically, at 11 years since the last solar minimum. And 22 years since the one before that. And 33 years since the one before that.

      Meanwhile, as you say, the globe warms up.

  • Obviously (Score:5, Funny)

    by CodeMunch ( 95290 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:07PM (#21000929) Homepage
    Obviously this is due to global warming on Earth caused by humans.
    • Well yes it is due to the radio waves. With our Radio and Wireless stuff we are polluting space. Thus causing the reduction of sunspots.
    • Re:Obviously (Score:4, Informative)

      by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:24PM (#21001153)

      Obviously this is due to global warming on Earth caused by humans.

      Nice flamebait. In response I'd like to point out the following.
      a)There are direct measurements of incoming solar radiation, making all questions as to if we understand the sun irrelevant. We know that the incoming energy has not changed enough to continuously accelerating warming ( in fact, even while incoming radiation has decreased the earth has kept warming quicker and quicker).
      b)Satelites sweep out the entire earth's surface measuring incoming and outgoing radiation. This has been going on for some time now. Surprise surprise, the main change is a major reduction in light leaving the earth at wavelengths which correspond to the fringes in CO2's absorption spectrum ( the peaks have saturated already ).
      c)Analysis of the ratio of C14 to C12 has confirmed that a huge fraction of the increased CO2 concentration is from a fossil origin. The remainder is believed to be due to deforestation.
      d)The oceans have been absorbing more and more CO2 which lowers the sea water pH, leading to "ocean acidification". This is a well documented problem, so the oceans emitting CO2 due to increased solar radiation is ruled out as a cause of recent warming.
      e)We know to great detail how much CO2 ( and other greenhouse gases) we have emitted. Since the only other fossil source of carbon is volcanic and geological activity, this together with the C12/C14 analysis tells us volcanos are not to blame. This is also in agreement with our present understanding of geology.

      So, in summary:
      a)We know the change in radiative forcing is due to greenhouse gases.
      b)We know the major amount of extra CO2 is from fossil sources.
      c)We know we emit CO2 much more rapidly than volcanos and geologic activity.

      You are arguing against the facts, I imagine that is why you insist on resorting to sarcasm and bad jokes rather than addressing the issue at hand.
      • You are arguing against the facts, I imagine that is why you insist on resorting to sarcasm and bad jokes rather than addressing the issue at hand.
        Or, you know, he was just making a bad joke.
      • You seem to have an objective grasp behind the alleged causes (at least some of them) of global warming. I mean that in a laudable, not pajorative, sense. Since I am by no means a pundit on the subject, I'd be interested to hear your responses to some other arguments I have heard - the falseness/truthness of them I am unaware of.

        I have heard that:

        A) The temperature of the earth mimics closely the sunspot cycle.
        B) The CO2 levels are a lagging variable when compared against the temperature of the earth.

        • Re:Obviously (Score:5, Interesting)

          by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @05:38PM (#21002317)

          A) The temperature of the earth mimics closely the sunspot cycle.

          Previously, when humans had little impact, the earth's climate did indeed vary according to solar cycle variations. That, however, does not appear to be the cause now. In particular, the earth has continued to warm at accelerating rates even while solar output has decreased. While being at a high solar activity as compared to a long time before today could perhaps explain some warming, it cannot explain why this warming is accelerating even while solar input decreases. Rather one would expect the rate of warming to decrease as the earth gets hotter, since higher temperatures should result in a greater amount of radiation being emitted by the earth.

          B) The CO2 levels are a lagging variable when compared against the temperature of the earth. (ie, it increases only after earth's temperatures increase).

          The present theory is roughly as follows:
          1)Warming from increased solar output causes increased CO2 release from the oceans.
          2)The extra CO2 blocks outgoing infrared radiation
          3)The shift in radiative forcing gives rise to more warming, resulting in ice-age termination.
          It is worth noting that the oceans are presently absorbing a lot of CO2, leading to ocean acidification. Thus while oceans warming due to increased solar activity causes the CO2 spike under ice-age termination, this is not what is happening today.

          C) The human imprint of C02 is immaterial - I think something like 6% of all CO2 released? (most of it being released by the Oceans). On top of which, there are other green house gases that have major affect like Methane.

          As I mentioned above the oceans are net-absorbers of CO2 at the moment, leading to ocean acidification as the CO2 is transformed into carbonic acid when it dissolves in water. This is in contrast to ice-age termination where oceans are believed to emit a lot of CO2 due to solar cycle variations. In shallow waters this is actually causing a lot of problems since many marine habitats are sensitive to changes in the pH of the water, and the acidification could kill important parts of the ecosystem.

          Plants also release a lot of CO2 when they die, but they also absorb the same amount as they grow, so unless you permanently kill them and prevent new ones from growing, the overall emission will be nil. I can't comment on the 6% figure as it doesn't say what it is talking about. Is it perhaps gross CO2 emitted before reabsorption is taken into consideration? Both the oceans and plants emit a lot of CO2, but they absorb even greater amounts, so if you fail to account for the absorption you may arrive at very low amounts of CO2 emitted by humans, while in reality the net emission is largely due to human activities. Methane is indeed an important greenhouse gas, but we emit CO2 in much larger quantities, making it overall more important as far as emissions are concerned.

          As I mentioned before, we have satelite measurements of outgoing radiation, and detailed measurements of the CO2 and Methane absorption spectrum, and this tells us that CO2 is by quite a large margin the most important of our emissions as far as warming is concerned ( thou the other gases have an impact as well ). Also, as C-14 decays with a very long half-life fossil carbon contains significantly less C-14 than carbon from plants and the oceans, and this shows up in CO2 concentration measurements. Following nuclear bomb tests inthe 60ies the overall C-14 concentration spiked. This concentration has rapidly declined, despite C-14's very long halflife, suggesting that large quantities of C-14 has been absorbed while C-12 has been emitted. The C-14 concentration, in combination with the records of our fossil emissions, therefore allows one to estimate how much of the increase in atmospheric CO2 is from fossil sources and how much is from plants and the oceans. It appears the vast majority is caused by humans.

    • If I recall correctly; the last time this occured and was observed was right in the middle of the Little Ice Age. Causal relationship? probably not...unless I can get some cool grant money to study it that is...
  • Simple (Score:4, Funny)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:08PM (#21000943)
    Fusion has just finished its 6 sigma training after 5 billion of years. Which is good time considering that it was only hydrogen taking the training.
    • by N3WBI3 ( 595976 )
      Sad thing is between the politics and science which are bound to own this article the sheer brilliance of this post will not get noticed...
  • A slowing down sun - finally something to counteract global warming.
  • Is this "news" or is it observation?

    Is there any relevance? Does this mean the sun will emit more or less energy? Will overall insolation drop?

  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:22PM (#21001129) Journal
    Is this a GOOD thing or a BAD thing? Inquiring minds want to know.
  • by iceyone ( 123598 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:22PM (#21001131) Homepage
    Can someone explain what this means to us in laymans terms? I'm just a software geek. I know nothing of this "sun" you speak of.
  • ZOMGS! (Score:4, Funny)

    by TheGeneration ( 228855 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @04:24PM (#21001169) Journal
    The sun is going to burn out and I never even got to post a "first" post on Slashdot. I'm going to die cold and unfulfilled! (Not by sharks with lasers thank god. That's a plus.)
    • by Dunbal ( 464142 )
      The sun is going to burn out and I never even got to post a "first" post on Slashdot. I'm going to die cold and unfulfilled!

            You could consider joining the GNAA, I'm sure you will then die cold, but filled...
  • Obviously the sun is shutting down to do its regular backup.
    • You'd think they'd schedule the backup overnight so as to inconvenience the least number of people.
  • I'm a bit agnostic to the whole global warming issue, but it'd be fun if this phenomenom shuts up the most vocal doomsday clowns.
  • Did anybody also notice the irony of the SunFire ad at the top?
  • by tabby ( 592506 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @05:02PM (#21001841) Homepage
    "what the sun decides to do "

    Please stop anthromorphising astonomical bodies. It just makes them angry.
  • by Wonderkid ( 541329 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @05:15PM (#21002021) Homepage
  • by megazoid81 ( 573094 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @06:57PM (#21003235)
    Q: How many days between this all-quiet alert and Sun changing its ticker symbol to JAVA?

    A: 42!

    It cannot be a coincidence that this magical number popped up here as well. The Sun needs some time to find itself before it decides what to do for the next quart^H^H^H^H^H solar cycle.

Live within your income, even if you have to borrow to do so. -- Josh Billings