Sun Begins to Show Its Spots

By David L. Brown

A few days ago I wrote about the failure of the Sun to enter what should by now be an increasingly active period as demonstrated by the appearance of sunspots. That intransigence by our star seems to have some people worried, although as I pointed out in my recent post a new period of solar quiescence could help mitigate global warming. A well-recorded previous event a few hundred years ago, the Maunder Minimum, was associated with a period dubbed the Little Ice Age.

Well, the media are now crowing that the Sun has at last begun to show its spots, as demonstrated by this recent image of the Solar disk:

090706-sunspot-1024-02

I am a bit bemused by the apparent concern expressed by some scientists and members of the press about the Sun’s behavior. If we should be entering a periof of sunspot minima, it would probably be a good thing, not something to worry about. And, of course, we should not welcome the appearance of a few spots as evidence that the sunspot cycle will be back to business as usual. The 11 year cycle of Solar activity is running about 18 months behind schedule. During the early stages leading up to the Maunder Minimum there were some spots—the entire period of reduced activity lasted for more than a century.

A period of calm would also be good news for our wired world, since a highly active Sun could launch a devastating wave of energetic particles that could fry our communications and power infrastructure and bring civilization to a screeching halt. It is only in recent months that worrywart scientists started to warn us of that dire possibility.

We’ll keep an eye on this important subject. Meanwhile, check my June 29 post for more details.

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