Letter to the Editor

Bloomfield man concerned about the sun's future

Monday, November 12, 2007

To the Editor:

Each morning I turn on my computer and check to see how the sun is doing. Lately I am greeted with the message "The sun is blank - no sunspots."

We are at the verge of the next sunspot cycle, solar cycle 24. How intense will this cycle be? Why is this question important? Because the sun is a major force controlling natural climate change on Earth.

Our Milky Way galaxy is awash with cosmic rays. These are high speed charged particles that originate from exploding stars. Because they are charged, their travel is strongly influenced by magnetic fields. Our sun produces a magnetic field that extends to the edges of our solar system. This field deflects many of the cosmic rays away from Earth. But when the sun goes quiet (minimal sunspots), this field collapses inward allowing cosmic rays to penetrate deeper into our solar system. As a result, far greater numbers collide with Earth and penetrate down into the lower atmosphere where they ionize small particles of moisture (humidity) forming them into water droplets that become clouds. Low level clouds reflect sunlight back into space. A large increase in Earth's cloud cover produce a global drop in temperature.

Some scientist feel they have developed sufficient understanding to predict the intensity of future sunspot cycles. A Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel was hosted on 25 April 2007 with officials from NOAA, NASA, ISES and other agencies. They issued a consensus statement which came to the conclusion that the next solar cycle could be severe, peaking at around 140 International Sunspot Numbers (Ri) or moderate, at around 90 Ri. But a few scientist disagree. A number of well regarded solar physicists are predicting the next solar cycle will be far weaker than the last one.

A paper by David C. Archibald published in Energy and Environment in 2006 forecasted a low intensity solar cycle with a peak Ri of approximately 50. A few scientist have even claimed that we might be headed into another Solar Minimum. For the past few months, the actual sunspot numbers have been below NOAA's lower predicted threshold, approaching zero.

One of the last Solar Minimums was the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715 AD). During the 30-year period from 1672-1699 AD, there were less than 50 sunspots detected, whereas during the past century over the same period between 40,000-50,000 sunspots appeared. The Maunder Minimum corresponded to the depths of the Little Ice Age.

It wasn't too far back in time when the Mississippi River froze solid above Saint Louis. This permitted wagon trains to cross in the winter and continue their journey west. You can still observe old two story houses in Wisconsin where second floor doors open out into nothingness. This allowed the inhabitants a method for exiting their homes in the middle of winter when snow depths reached 8-feet and above.

So each morning, I get up and turn on my computer to see how the sun is doing. And I wonder!

James A. Marusek