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NASA Space Science

Mystery of the Missing Sunspots, Solved? 99

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

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  • The Economy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Fished ( 574624 ) <> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:16PM (#28368093)
    Of course, the fact that we have the worst global recession in 70 years at the same time as a low in sunspot activity is Entirely Coincidental. Seriously, I haven't studied this in depth, so I don't really know, but it sure seems suspicious, and it's certainly been proposed in the past that the sunspot cycle affected the economy.
  • Re:Old news (Score:4, Insightful)

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

    What the hell will Al Gore do?

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

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

  • Re:Old news (Score:5, Insightful)

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

    No worries though. In the time it takes for the population to triple, our agricultural output quadruples. The problem is, and always has been, distribution.
  • ???Clue??? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:46PM (#28368301)

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

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

  • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @09:36PM (#28368593) Homepage Journal
    Well, given that the minimum started a few years ago and the earth has been on a cooling trend for the past few years, ending a period of high solar activity in which we were on a warming trend, it would be quite a coincidence that the warming trend happened to end just when the sun had a drastic decrease in solar activity.
  • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @11:05PM (#28369151)

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

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

  • by Hellsbells ( 231588 ) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @11:59PM (#28369431)

    It seems that our carbon emissions are also cooling Venus and Uranus.

    Or it could be that these planets temperatures are changing independently of both the Sun and our carbon emissions?

    There's nothing like some cherry picked data to prove a point.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Thursday June 18, 2009 @12:11AM (#28369497) Journal
    "that at least some climate activity isn't and can't be affected by humans"

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

    Here [] is what the BOM says about our climate and the permenant drought [].

    The fact that Melbourne's dams are at their lowest level ever (for how many winter's in a row now?), or the fact that most of our major cities are on severe water rationing and scrambling to build giant de-sal plants, or the fact that our grain harvest has been cut in half for all but 2 of the last 10 yrs, may not bother you, but it certainly bothers farmers and most Aussies with more than a single brain cell.
  • by Lars T. ( 470328 ) <> on Thursday June 18, 2009 @02:13AM (#28370185) Journal
    So why aren't "these guys" showing us that Mars and Jupiter are cooling, because the GW denier's latest claim is that Earth is in a cooling spell because of the Sunspot minimum?
  • Re:Oh, shoot! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @06:37AM (#28371663) Homepage
    Soon to be, sadly. :(
  • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Thursday June 18, 2009 @05:12PM (#28380755)
    And to my way of thinking, if we take 600 million years of trapped solar radiation and release most of it over a paltry couple of centuries ... well, I reckon that would have an effect too.

    That's not really what it's about. The waste heat from our industries isn't heating the Earth significantly; according to Wikipedia [] the total world electricity generation is 6.3*10**19 J. The total energy input from the Sun is 1.5*10**22 J. All our industries add up to about half of a percent of the Earth's heat budget. A 31st-century fusion-based economy might run into waste heat problems, but not us.

    The problem is infrared opacity of carbon dioxide. Energy comes in from the Sun in the visible spectrum (black-body temperature 5500K or so). It's absorbed by the Earth, which warms up, and re-radiates in the infrared (black-body temperature 300K or so). Carbon dioxide absorbs infrared photons in that frequency range. Of course it re-radiates infrared photons out again soon enough, but when it does so, it doesn't necessarily radiate them up. Result is, the more carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere, the more any given quantum of energy leaving the Earth can expect to hit on a random walk through the atmosphere before escaping into space - and so the longer it takes. But the incoming visible photons aren't delayed at all. Final result, whole system shifts to a higher temperature equilibrium.

    Now there are any number of complications. The Earth isn't a black body, it's all sorts of colours, and there are many other mechanisms also in play: some that absorb carbon dioxide, some that release more. So it's hard to put a definite figure on the expected warming. And suppose you do: suppose you say 'We predict average global warming of n Kelvin in the next hundred years'... what effect will that have? Will it dry out forests, which burn to the ground? Or will the jungles expand? Will southern Europe become Sahara North? Will Siberia defrost and become farmland? What about all that methane under the permafrost? How much glacier melt can we expect, and which cities need to be evacuated? Suddenly it's a colossal multivariable nightmare.

    You're not all that far off in your thinking, though. Consider the climate when all that carbon was being turned into coal and buried. It was called the Carboniferous Era, and it was a good deal warmer than it is today - until the very end. Funnily enough, once all that carbon dioxide was taken out of the air by plants, which then got buried and turned to coal... the climate cooled quite a lot, and the Permian began with the planet in the grip of a massive ice age.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard