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Space Science

The Quietest Sun 227

Orbity sends in a Boston Globe report on the unusual calm on the surface of the sun. The photos, many taken in more active solar times, are excellent — see the sequence from last year of a coronal mass ejection carrying away the tail of a comet. "The Sun is now in the quietest phase of its 11-year activity cycle, the solar minimum — in fact, it has been unusually quiet this year — with over 200 days so far with no observed sunspots. The solar wind has also dropped to its lowest levels in 50 years. Scientists are unsure of the significance of this unusual calm..." As if to be contrary, New Scientist mentions that the number of sunspots seem to be increasing.
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The Quietest Sun

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  • by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @02:57AM (#25365729) Journal

    The sun is dying. Netcraft confirms it.

  • oblig (Score:4, Insightful)

    by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:04AM (#25365759)
    it's quiet out there... too darn quiet... I don't like it...
  • by tsa ( 15680 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:24AM (#25365833) Homepage

    Speaking of the sun, I recently bought a DSLR camera, and I would like to take pictures of the sun with it. Does anyone of you know how to go about that without destroying the camera's sensor or my eyes? What kind of filter do I need? Some people suggested a piece of glass that people use for welding; is that good enough?

    • no it won't protect your eyes. the only way i know of is the old pin hole through cardboard type method used during a solar eclipse, but i'm not sure even that is safe without the blockage of the eclipse.
      • Dont people google any more?

        Google answers all of you questions just ask, its like the oracle , it sees all, knows all, its your friend. Google just needs a 3d avatar, and a voice of Hal.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          Well -- make sure it is one that is from a reputable source, and of course don't trust anything that doesn't go over the objective.

          Personally, I'd experiment with some kind of projection system first, before I started pointing cameras at the sun. You could do something considerably nicer than the classic box-pinhole arrangement with a surplus lens and a first surface mirror.

        • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

          Dont people google any more?

          No? Speaking of which, I have this site I wanna go to, I know its name but I forgot the address. Does anyone of you know how to go about finding that site with only its name?

      • The old pin hole through cardboard method is used to show an image on a surface. You don't look through the hole.
        Actually, never mind. It will be easier to spot the dumbasses if they are all bumping into stuff because they blinded themselves by trying to look at the sun.
        • When I was 6 or 7, I looked directly at a total eclipse. I still have 20/20 vision decades later. Although, I may have reduced vision in one particular spot, although I have never noticed any. Looking briefly at the Sun won't make you blind, just as looking briefly at a welding light won't make you instantly blind. It takes repeated or extended exposure to do this. Kind of like my father in-law, who did a lot of welding in his youth without benefit of protection. Some people who are very smart still do stup

          • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
            When I was like 5 and that I was bored while travelling in car I would stare at the Sun for minutes, until the sun would appear as a sort of dancing ying yang sign with red and light yellow in the place of black and white (next time your kids are bored in the car and asking if you're there yet tell em to shut up and to stare at the Sun, cause it's fun). I now have a pretty fucked up eyesight, but that's undoubtedly unrelated.
      • Using a welding glass will certainly protect you eyes. The light from welding is many times brighter than the Sun. In fact welding glass is so dark it turns day into moonless night. However, I wouldn't recommend using this as a means to take photos of the Sun, although you could, theoretically speaking.

        Your best bet is to use a pinhole camera to project the light onto a white screen and take a picture of the screen.

        If that is unsatisfactory: dig yourself a hole in the ground big enough to fit into, cover it

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 )

        no it won't protect your eyes.

        Welder's glass of the right type will indeed protect your eyes, as will a few other types of filters. This site [] has good information.

        The Sun is not the face of God. It is very bright and can damage your eyes, but sufficient filtering will reduce the brightness and allow direct viewing.

        When we had an annular eclipse in, IIRC, 1994, I stacked a whole bunch of sunglasses together and took a quick look, with no damage.

    • by resignator ( 670173 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:39AM (#25365909)
      Baader makes a makes an AstroSolar Saftey Film that can be cut to any size. []

      I have also seen some people use modified telescope filters (Calcium K-line).
    • by bronney ( 638318 )


      Your shutter speed will be maxed so the sensor's exposure to the bright focused sun will be minimal anyway, don't worry about it. Shoot it.


      Liveview. If not available, shoot 100, 1000, 10000, it's digital anyway. Shoot until you find the one you like. I presume you're using some kick ass 500mm, or even better, get a telescope and an adapter.

      Happy shooting :D

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Um, no, his shutter speed will be whatever he sets it to be. Where the hell do these people come from?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Iskender ( 1040286 )

        Your shutter speed will be maxed so the sensor's exposure to the bright focused sun will be minimal anyway, don't worry about it. Shoot it.

        Apart from the other fault pointed out by another poster, you're missing the important fact that not only the imaging sensor is a sensitive component.

        The autofocus sensors, the metering sensors, the mirror and *the shutter itself* are all sensitive components. The manual of my Olympus dSLR says not to do it, and I doubt it's in any way unique.

        The only responsible advice is to get a filter built for this very purpose before shooting.

    • by Suddenly_Dead ( 656421 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:52AM (#25365955)

      The best way to do it is with a solar telescope, which will get you a nice, zoomed-in shot. Alternatively, you can buy solar filters for telescopes, but you must be absolutely positive that they are high quality and you must have one that covers the main telescope aperture; those that cover only the eyepiece are dangerous as fuck.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ultranova ( 717540 )

        Alternatively, you could simply project the image from the telescope to a piece of paper/cardboard and photograph that. That way there's no chance of filter failure, because there is no filter.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Bad idea. For standard off the shelf telescopes, the internals, especially the main mirror are not designed to deal with the radiative heat from the sun. Doing as you propose, you risk warping the mirror or damaging other parts in your telescope.
          • by hey! ( 33014 )

            Well, that's assuming we're talking about a reflector. You can do what GP suggests by holding a pair of cheap binoculars just so, or indeed with any other refractor.

            I'd choose an eyepiece that wasn't an expensive, wide field design if I was doing extended observations. A Huygenian or Ramsden would probably serve, and they have only air spaced elements. You could either use a really, really cheap eyepiece in a 1.25 to 0.965" adapter, adapt a microscope eyepiece, or even rig up your own air spaced eyepi

        • Screw that. I'm pointing that thing at the nearest ant mound. Magnifying glasses are soooo third grade. Best ant cooking device ever!
      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        I'm curious as to whether fully exposed xray film would do the job. It sure doesn't let much light through -- the sun winds up looking like a dim moon.

    • by toQDuj ( 806112 )

      Well, buy (from e.g. B+W) an ND1000 filter or higher. that should do the trick, and unlike the welding goggles, cannot accidentally come off the lens...

    • You might check with your local 'Astronomy Club', or if a planetarium is nearby, maybe someone there could give you the benefit of their (individual/group) experience.

      Even though I have benefited from some real gems at /. , I would still do some independent research for something like this.

    • by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:58AM (#25366211) Homepage

      The welder's glass will do at a pinch although it's not really sufficient for prolonged viewing of the sun. You'll also need to figure out some means of fixing it to the camera and you might find that it causes some unusual colour shifts in the image as well. Alternatively, you can get hold of a neutral density filter specifically designed for solar-photography; typically these will equate to about 10-15 stops of light loss - Cokin's NDX is one of the "cheapest" options, but that's relative; these are niche products that can be quite hard to find and are priced accordingly.

      As to composing and focusing without damaging the sensor or your eyes... Well, it's a good idea to be quick. :) Assuming you gave a "proper" DSLR with a through the lens viewfinder, then you can use the old trick of holding a piece of card a few inches from the eyepiece for basic composition, and on newer models you can also use the live preview screen function. Be aware though that when using the latter method your sensor will be exposed to the sun, so don't take too long or your sensor may get damaged. Focussing isn't too critical; set the camera to manual focus and focus on infinity before you start, and you should get a perfectly usable result, although for pin sharp shots of sunspots a little more precise focussing may be required. Typically, my approach is as follows:

      1. Set up the camera & lens (manual focus, filter attached, pointed in the right direction, etc.)
      2. Visually look for any sunspots by composing with the piece of card technique then focussing manually to make the image sharp; if there are any then I want to know where they are so I can make sure that they are sharp
      3. Compose the shot
      4. Reset the focus to infinity (it will be slightly off from step #2)
      5. Switch to live view
      6. If there are any sunspots, zoom the live view screen in where they are and focus until sharp
      7. Take the shot
      8. Profit! (hopefully)

      Be aware that with longer focal lengths the sun will move fairly rapidly across the viewfinder, but unless you are using an insanely long telephoto lens or a telescope with an adapter then this shouldn't be a major problem if you leave room for the sun to move across the frame when you compose.

      Good luck, and don't take any chances with your eyes!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BigBlueOx ( 1201587 )

        Good luck, and don't take any chances with your eyes!

        ...and while contemplating the photography of the Sun let's all take a minute and think about what happens when we bring the Sun's light to a focus. Like, say, using a magnifying glass to focus the Sun's light on an ant.

        Now think about what happens to the air/glass/coatings/electronics in your eyepiece/camera CCD/eyeball. Think real hard. Think, think, think.

        Please, please, please use a real solar filter over your camera's lens - a real solar filter fro

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by JustOK ( 667959 )

      Its perfectly safe, but only if you do it at night.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      go to astronomy forums and ask. or check out Orion telescopes website for the parts you need to do that.

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      Thanks for all the replies guys. I think I will ask our local astronomy club, but also do more research of my own. Projecting the sun on a piece of paper and trying to photograph that seems like a safe way to start.

  • by eebra82 ( 907996 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:30AM (#25365863) Homepage
    This tropical paradise looks as calm as one trillion nuclear bombs. Honey, we're going on vacation.
  • by itsybitsy ( 149808 ) * on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:49AM (#25365941)

    ... burns you to a crisp... now it's in a calm state... but it's waiting, taunting us with massive flares... during the so called calm period there was that really big flare on 20080929... yikes... crispy... Sol... stay cool...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      If horror films have taught me anything, it's that it's always the most quiet right before the zombies suddenly break through the window. I guess what I'm saying is that we need to shoot the sun in the head while we still can.
  • by Armakuni ( 1091299 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:04AM (#25366001) Homepage
    The five trillion tons of Clearasil must be starting to kick in.
  • crisis (Score:4, Funny)

    by xristoph ( 1169159 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:19AM (#25366049) Journal
    so THAT is what caused the economic crisis...

    People, pray to your favorite deity for more sun spots!
    • by umghhh ( 965931 )

      ooops I misclicked and you got overrated, I wanted give it funny - mea culpa now I have to write to get it removed

  • Cycle 24 spot seen (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:20AM (#25366053)

    This story is a little late. Since then a cycle 24 spot group has been seen. Even so, solar activity is still rather low, cycle 24 is late. What does it mean? It means we're going to be in for some very cold weather in the near future.

  • by Zixx ( 530813 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:23AM (#25366069)

    Have a look at the SIDC []. We count sunspots and get payed for it!

  • by SlashDev ( 627697 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:23AM (#25366073) Homepage
    The sun is using ProActive
  • by ChowRiit ( 939581 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:40AM (#25366139)

    As the sun has an 11 year cycle of activity, is it really that significant that this is the least active it's been in 50 years? That would mean that out of the last 5 solar minima this is the quietest, which it doesn't take a physicist to notice is a 1 in 5 chance - hardly breathtaking.

    • by Scarblac ( 122480 ) <> on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @05:48AM (#25366439) Homepage

      It's even less surprising. If this minimum's activity is lower than the last one, it's automatically "the lowest in the last x!". And if were higher, vice versa.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Eudial ( 590661 )

      Indeed, I can't refrain from commenting on the part of TFS that notes that "Scientists are unsure of the significance of this unusual calm..."

      I mean, of course they're not sure. They shouldn't care about the significance of what the heavenly bodies are doing at all. That is the area of astrologers and other pseudo scientists.

      Any self respecting scientist should answer the question "What does it mean when the sun is unusually quiet?" with "It means that the sun is unusually quiet."

    • This is the start of Cycle 24, not Cycle 5. People have been watching the sun for a long time. It's the solar wind that's only been measured for 50 years.
  • by Xenna ( 37238 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:47AM (#25366169)

    Come on! We must be able to link this to some kind of human activity!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      c'mon, isn't it obvious? It is yet another result of global warming.

    • Intelligence reports that Osama Bin Laden just opened a new terrorist training camp there. They also cook WMDs, a sun spots you see are really failed tests. The bush administration is planning on sending some or our finest minorities young men there to kick some ass and deliver universal justice for once and for all. There you have.

  • hmmmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @04:47AM (#25366171)
    (1) those are *stunning* pictures


    (2) did I not hear that this is linked to the lull in global warming recently, and as soon as the sun picks so does the heat? is this true....?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dr_canak ( 593415 )

      If you ever have a chance to look through one of these: []

      definitely do so. They are extremely expensive telescopes, so unless you're *really* into amateur astronomy and include solar observations as part of your hobby, then they are prohibitively expensive. With that said, these are the first set of telescopes I've looked through where the image at the eyepiece actually matches the pictures you see. In other words, the images at the eyepiece are very close to some of the phot

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by caluml ( 551744 )

      New spots are beginning to break out on the face of the Sun and may signal the end of a dry spell in solar activity.

      For which I, as a radio amateur [] will be very happy, as we're currently right at the lowest point of the sunspot cycle [] . The sun's activity correlates with the "reflectivity" of the layers of the atmosphere. When the layers are "reflective", signals can bounce [], with each bounce landing a thousand or so miles away. If you get a few bounces, you can talk to the other side of the world, even on low power. When there's no propagation [], you are unlikely to get more than 50 or so miles (groundwave), no matter how m

    • I keep telling it to not eat as much fatty foods, but nooo.....

      This is what happens when you tempt fate.

    • by Glock27 ( 446276 )
      Or not: []

      We're already looking at significant global cooling for several decades down the road, let's hope it's not going to be a new Maunder Minimum type event...

  • Very convenient (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jeppe Salvesen ( 101622 ) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @05:14AM (#25366275)

    This will give us good readings on how the solar cycle affects this climate.

    • So when the solar spot cycle is low does that mean there is more or less energy being radiated? It would seem that if there are sun spots that there might be less energy being radiated which would cause the planets to cool. When there are fewer sun spots there is more energy being radiated (more surface area at a constant temperature) so the planets would warm up more.
      Do we have any instrumentation that shows the amount of energy the sun is giving off?
      • It does affect the amount of energy from the Sun but not by much. A bit less than 2W/m^2 between minimum and maximum. [].

        For comparison, the difference between January and July is about 90W/m^2 (with January being higher than July) due to the differing distances of the Earth from the Sun during the year. []

        You'll have to ask a climatologist whether a sustained 2W/m^2 change in the solar constant would have a significant effect

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by DougF ( 1117261 )
        From what we can discern about sunspots so far it seems that a fair amount of solar wind is generated from the edges of sunspots. So, more sunspots = more solar wind. Now, the trick is to tie that increase in solar wind to an increase in energy imparted to Earth's atmosphere and somehow come up with a mechanism to transfer that energy to the troposphere... So far, only one or two serious climatologists think this might be happening, the other 99% are "sure" that it's not possible and CO2 is the primary c
    • this article [] seems to give a good idea of what happens when sun spots are too low for too long, and what this has lead to in the past. There is only one other place on the images that looks like today: the lead up to the Dalton Minimum

  • .. but the Sparc 1 in my basement is damn silent, I tell you.

  • Pic # 8 (Score:2, Interesting)

    Could anyone tell me what the mechanism behind an accelerating wavefront is ? The caption creates the impression that this is physics for 12 year olds ...
  • If the lack of sunspots holds on, then, if we get declining global temperatures, then, we might actually be headed into an ice age. Knowing our luck, this would become evident AFTER we've blown ten trillion dollars to lower our CO2.

  • The cycle's AVERAGE is 11 years. It could go longer or shorter. This is not a big deal. I believe one past cycle (IIRC) lasted 13 years. Give it a few months. It'll start kicking in.
    • Ussually though, even during the solar minimum, there are at least some sunspots. This year has seen virtually zero spots until very recently and now the number of sunspots is increasing very, very slowly. If this means that the active part of the cycle will be unusually quiet that could be a very big deal.

      We might not be sure why or how, but we do know that there is a correlation between sunspot activity and weather in at least a some locations on Earth. If someday we can predict droughts and floods a y

      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        Other correlations:

        When sunspot activity is at max, we see "white hair condition" in black- or brown-coated animals -- it's caused by a fungus that lives in the hair follicles. It produces a frosting or spotting effect, which is temporary in dogs, but permanent in horses and cats (and I believe also in cattle). Research at Colorado State University College of Vet Med, from about 35-40 years ago, pegged the fungus, but so far I seem to be the only one who's noticed it peaks with the sunspot cycle.

        Trash bambo

  • Wow, I have had 4 Cisco switches reload this year due to "Parity Errors", which they attribute to 'Cosmic Radiation*'. I thought that we were in a high point of solar activity.

    * Not sure if solar activity is source of said cosmic radiation.

    • Yeah, the old "cosmic rays ploy." Back when we used Motorola machines, I had one system that would crash on a parity error. One. Out of five machines, and the only one with that specific type of memory. Also, there were between 12 and 20 other machines in that room that never crashed. The third time the tech came out on a service call he told me the problem was cosmic rays. We dumped the Motorola machines before Y2k, and have not had a cosmic ray problem since.
      • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

        Ah, those cosmic rays! A few years ago I found how to use a computer to attract them. I don't want to get too technical, but that involved dereferencing pointers. Then I'd see more cosmic rays hit the shit out of the machine than ever!

        I'm currently working on a patent detailing how to how to attract cosmic rays away from a device to protect by placing computers all around and making them run the cosmic-ray attracting code.

  • There is mounting evidence that sunspot activity has an effect on the Earth's temperature. I believe this will be one of the coldest winters in the past 10 years.

    This evidence also suggests that Earth is trending towards cooling overall. Not warming like all the 'experts' claim.

    Wait and see, this will be one of the coldest winters we've seen in a long time.

  • is a mass of incandescent gas, A gigantic nuclear furnace......
  • Great! Now we're waiting on the sun to break wind!
  • After all, it is well known that the sunspot cycle and the economy are somehow linked. It's not the bankers' fault after all. Darn you, sun! Darn you to heck!

  • I follow this blog [] which gives regular reports on the sun.

    The problem is all up until yesterday-ish had been short lived, less than 24-hour sunspots at a latitude consistent with the previous solar cycle. (There seems to be a pattern where spots begin and progress to during the cycle's life cycle.)

    However to really understand just how quet the sun is, look at this animated graphic

    Many, many people are predicting another mini-ice age as a result. Check out this article [] for a wavelet image of sun spot number

  • There was a quiet period in the 16th and 17th century. It corresponded with a brief global cooling. I wonder if scientists have looked for other quiet periods. Most of the studies have been the opposite, suggesting solar cycles hundreds of millions of years ago. Looking for "absence of evidence" is harder to establish scientifically.
  • Oh my God! Its everywhere! Everywhere! My eyes, oh my eyes! []

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire