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The sun has been reported to have a ‘very deep’ solar minimum with 100 days of 2020 not seeing any sunspots on its surface.
Astronomer Dr Tony Phillips says the current lack of sunspot counts suggests the current solar minimum is one of the ‘deepest’ of the past century.
A sunspot is an area of magnetic activity on the surface of the sun – also known as storms – and appear in areas of darkness. They play a huge part in the sun’s activity, including birthing solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
A solar minimum occurs when zero sunspots are spotted, but, before you start panicking and thinking this is a bad thing, solar minimums are all part of the sun’s cycle and occur every 11 years or so.
NASA first recorded no activity on the sun last summer and it is thought to have continued to be without sunspots ever since. Solar minimums usually consist of 12 months of little sunspot activity.
While the sunspots and the solar flares they give off become more ‘calm’ (as NASA describe it), it doesn’t affect the sun’s brightness.
The idea of solar minimums affecting life on Earth is an on-going debate with some scientists believing it can affect the weather and earthquakes, while others argue it has little impact on our planet.
Some scientists have linked previous solar minimums to dramatic drops in Earth’s temperature, including causing what was known as the ‘little ice age’ in the 1600s – some even fear it may happen again.
Valentina Zharkova, a professor of mathematics at Northumbria University said in a statement, ‘solar activity will fall by 60 percent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645.’
Meanwhile, Georg Feulner, the deputy chair of the Earth system analysis research domain at the Potsdam Institute on Climate Change Research said, ‘The expected decrease in global temperature would be 0.1 degrees Celsius at most, compared to about 1.3 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times by the year 2030.’
In the 2011 research paper Influence of Solar Cycles on Earthquakes produced by M. Tavares, they linked the solar cycle to earthquakes and that there were fewer of them during solar minimum.
The paper read:
The earthquakes analyzed during two grand solar minima, the Maunder (1645-1720) and the Dalton (1790-1820) showed a decrease in the number of earthquakes and the solar activity. After the last [grand] minima (Dalton) the earthquakes pattern increased with solar maxima.
While these things are still ongoing debates, one thing that NASA did find to happen during solar minimum was an increased number of galactic cosmic rays that reach Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Galactic cosmic rays are high energy particles accelerated toward the solar system by distant supernova explosions and other violent events in the galaxy.
This happens due to the sun’s magnetic field weakening during solar minimum, which can cause an increased threat to astronauts travelling through space.
Meanwhile, humans on earth are still protected by the earth’s magnetic fields that shield us from the rays.
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