Late last month, a new milestone was reached in the current solar minimum cycle. As of June 15, there were 648 spotless days. There were no sunspots, or storms on the sun, for 130 days in 2009.
The last time the sun was this inactive was in 1913 when there were 311 out of 365 days without sunspots. Only two other solar cycles had less activity. The granddaddy of the least solar activity was the Maunder minimum. This occurred from Oct. 15, 1661, to Aug. 2, 1671, a total of 3,579 days without a single sunspot. Scientists have no explanation why the sun went off its normal 11-year cycle for such a long period of time.
An international panel of experts predicts that a new solar maxima phase, Solar Cycle 24, will likely peak in May 2013. However, the panel now expects the number of sunspots to be below average levels. These experts also predict that we should see another year of “mostly quiet conditions before solar activity resumes in earnest.”
According to a scientist at the at the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo., “if our prediction is correct, Solar Cycle 24 will have a peak sunspot number of 90, the lowest of any cycle since 1928 when Solar Cycle 16 peaked at 78.”
Within the last month, the sun has shown some signs of new life. There has been an increase in solar radio emissions and small sunspots popping up more frequently.
Many scientists admit that the low solar activity does have an effect on our atmosphere. The decreased energy from the sun does allow for Earth’s atmosphere to cool and contract. Since 1998, the peak of warming, the average worldwide temperature has dropped. Long-term cycles and La Niña, the abnormal cooling of ocean waters, may have also contributed to the recent cooling.
During solar maximums, huge sunspots and intense solar flares create auroras. Satellites can be damaged due to high radiation and there are numerous radio blackouts. This occurred in 2000, 2001 and in mid-2005. Based on current data, the sun is forecast to become much more active in 2010 and reach the maxima peak in 2013.
Assuming our sun does become more active and we see a new El Niño, it’s possible that global temperatures may see a rebound and our next winter season may see much less snow.