Meteorologist and renowned sun-watcher Paul Dorian raised the alarm in his latest report, which has sparked a mild panic about an impending “Game of Thrones”-style winter not seen since the 17th century.
“For the second time this month, the sun has gone completely blank,” Dorian says. “The blank sun is a sign that the next solar minimum is approaching and there will be an increasing number of spotless days over the next few years. At first, the blankness will stretch for just a few days at a time, then it’ll continue for weeks at a time, and finally it should last for months at a time when the sunspot cycle reaches its nadir. The next solar minimum phase is expected to take place around 2019 or 2020.”
According to NASA, the sun goes through a natural solar cycle approximately every 11 years. The cycle is marked by the increase and decrease of sunspots — visible as dark blemishes on the sun’s surface, or photosphere. The greatest number of sunspots in any given solar cycle is designated as “solar maximum.” The lowest number is “solar minimum.” Below is the sun during solar maximum, showing intense activity with plenty of sunspots.
“During solar minimum, the opposite occurs. Solar flares are almost non-existent while whole weeks go by without a single, tiny sunspot to break the monotony of the blank sun. This is what we are experiencing now.”
Given that the sun is the main driver of all weather and climate, the sinister-sounding “blankness” to which Dorian refers has some experts predicting a “Maunder Minimum” phase similar to one which began in 1645 and which is referred to as the “Little Ice Age.”
The Maunder Minimum, named after solar astronomer Edward Maunder, lasted for a brutal 70 years and conditions were so cold, the Thames froze over. A slightly less intense ice age-like period called the Dalton Minimum — after British meteorologist John Dalton — arrived decades later and lasted from about 1790 to 1830.
“If history is any guide, it is safe to say that weak solar activity for a prolonged period of time can have a cooling impact on global temperatures in the troposphere which is the bottommost layer of Earth’s atmosphere — and where we all live,” Dorian says.
Dorian’s findings back research by professor Valentina Zharkova of Northumbria University, who warned that a predicted sharp decline in solar activity between 2020 and 2050 was a sign that another ice age was coming.
|Recent blank sun without visible sun spots.|
And there are other consequences of a sun without spots. Not least for astronauts who face the risk of having their DNA “shattered” by cosmic rays, whose potency surges during periods of solar weakness.
According to Dorian, cosmic rays surge into the inner solar system “with relative ease” during periods of solar minimum. “Solar wind decreases and sun’s magnetic field weakens during solar minimums, making it easier for cosmic rays to reach the Earth,” he explained.
“This is a more dangerous time for astronauts as the increase in potent cosmic rays can easily shatter a strand of human DNA. Also, during years of lower sunspot number, the sun’s extreme ultraviolet radiation drops and the Earth’s upper atmosphere cools and contracts.