Sunday Afternoon: Solar Minimum

I’ve been following the news about sunspot activity on the Sun. The Sun goes through cycles of sunspot activity that normally last seven years. I learned about this as a teenage ham radio operator (callsign KA7NTR), because sunspot activity affected some of the radio bands my dad and I liked to use.

We have hit a period of sustained extremely low sunspot activity. A good summary of the situation can be found at NASA’s Solar Physics page from Marshall Space Flight Center. The practical upshot of what is said there is this: the minimum is lasting longer than expected, scientists really don’t know how long it will last, but we are not in new territory. There was a documented minimum cycle that lasted from 1645 to 1715 called the “Maunder Minimum”. The low solar activity at that time affected Earth’s weather directly, resulted in what they call the “Little Ice Age”.

Whether or not this kind of prolonged minimum is what we have in store for our near-term future, it brings to mind how fragile our existence is. Don’t get me wrong – we are not looking at a disaster here; that’s not what I’m saying. Humanity can deal with a “Little Ice Age” just fine.

What I’m getting at is the fact that our existence is fragile. We could wake up one morning, and the sun could no longer be shining, and all these things we spend so much time fretting about would become completely irrelevant. I find that both humbling and liberating.

And what does this say about the environmental movement? People claim to know so much, but that weather is never EVER static is a fact that is often overlooked. I live in a house on a piece of land that used to be underwater, for heaven’s sake. Someday, it might be again.

The Sun today (Apr 26, 2009) – no sunspots.
88% of the days in 2009 have been spotless.

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