The sun has been unusually quiet recently, and nobody really knows why. Could this possibly be the beginnings of a mini-ice age?
The scientific term for the cooling phenomenon is a “Maunder minimum”. Here’s the definition as stated by the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Maunder Minimum, an unexplained period of drastically reduced sunspot activity that occurred between 1645 and 1715.
When solar activity slows down for lengthy periods of time, our planet’s temperature cools, as the sun is our sole provider of heat. English astronomer Edward Walter Maunder first noticed in 1894 that we’d observed very few sunspots in between 1645 and 1715. At first his researche was criticized, but American astronomer John Eddy backed up his claims in 1976.
Eddy saw that Maunder’s research clearly explained how the period of minimal sun activity also corresponded with the coldest parts of the “Little Ice Age” that lasted from 1500 to 1850. Thus the phenomenon “Maunder minimum” was named after Edward Maunder’s discovery.
Does this mean we’re about to experience the same thing? Not quite. Scientists say they have no idea what the sun might do in the relatively near future. Some speculate that the sun will keep quiet through the middle 2020’s (known as the Gleissberg cycle), and that its slumber will have little affect on the Earth. Others speculate that a Maunder minimum is inevitable.
Perhaps the most inexplicable part of this whole thing is that the sun has gone quiet when its activity should be at its peak. The sun travels through an 11-year solar cycle, with periods of high activity intermixed with quietness. Back in 2008 when the current cycle (Solar cycle 24) began, some researchers predicted that this cycle would be very eventful, while others claimed it would be lackluster. This just goes to show how little we really know about the sun.
Regardless, we won’t really know what to expect from the sun until sometime during its next solar cycle. Giuliana DeToma, a solar scientist at the High Altitude Observatory in Colorado blasted those who concluded that the earth was entering a Maunder minimum, while at the same time saying, “we will (sic) do not know how or why the Maunder minimum started, so we cannot predict the next one.”
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