Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Is the sun preparing

to flatline?

To the Editor:

Did you ever listen to your heartbeat? It goes thump, thump, thump as the heart pumps blood through the veins. Well our sun has its own type of heartbeat. Approximately every 11 years, the sun's reverses its magnetic poles.

A physicist would call this heartbeat, a solar cycle. When the beats are steady and strong, this is called a Solar Grand Maxima. During most of the last century, the sun was in this phase. And as a result, temperatures on Earth were slightly warmer than normal. But the sun has begun to change.

Sometimes the sun's heartbeat becomes very weak. For a human, they would be rushed to a hospital and placed on life support. The last time this occurred was called the Dalton Minimum (lasting from about 1790 to 1830). The current solar cycle looks eerily similar to this phase. This probably accounts for some of the cold winters experienced in North America, Europe and Asia during the past five winters.

Sometimes the sun's heartbeats will flatline. A physicist would describe this as a Solar Grand Minima. This happened during the Maunder Minimum (around the years 1645 to 1715) and the Spörer Minimum (the years 1460 to 1550). During these times the sun's magnetic field was so weak that the sun lost it spots (sunspots).

There is a relationship between the sun's magnetic field and temperatures on Earth. This relationship is not linear but logarithmic. Generally when the heartbeats are between a Dalton Minimum and a Solar Grand Maxima, there is only a small temperature difference. But when the sun flatlines, the temperature on Earth drops like a lead brick. These periods were known as Little Ice Ages, terrible cold and desolate times.

Normally, the sun's heartbeat comes in pairs. Therefore one might expect the next solar cycle to be very similar to the current one. But several scientists from around the world are predicting that the sun is sliding once again towards a flatline. Time will tell! Stay tuned!

James A. Marusek