Sunspots have now not been present for 79 days – or 55 percent – of the year so far, which scientists state is a major sign that the long awaited solar minimum has arrived. The sun follows cycles of roughly 11 years where it reaches a solar maximum and before shifting into solar minimum. During a solar maximum, the sun gives off more heat and is littered with sunspots. Less heat in a solar minimum is due to a decrease in magnetic waves and fewer sunspots.
Cosmic forecasting website Space Weather said the lack of sunspots is similar to the last solar minimum.
The site stated: “The sun has been without sunspots for 79 days so far this year – more than half the time.
“To find a similar number of blank suns, you have to go back to 2009 when the sun was experiencing the deepest solar minimum in a century.”
Earth’s host star was not expected to head into a solar minimum until around 2020 and, if the phenomenon has arrived early, this will mean a prolonged cold snap.
The last time there was a prolonged solar minimum, the event led to a ‘mini ice-age’, scientifically known as the Maunder minimum – which lasted for 70 years.
The Maunder minimum, which saw seven decades of freezing weather, began in 1645 and lasted through to 1715, and happened when sunspots were exceedingly rare.
During this period, temperatures dropped globally by 1.3 degrees celsius leading to shorter seasons and ultimately food shortages.
Ultimately, if the sun is to go through a prolonged solar minimum, then mankind could be the ones to suffer.
NASA explains on its website: “All weather on Earth, from the surface of the planet out into space, begins with the Sun.
“Space weather and terrestrial weather (the weather we feel at the surface) are influenced by the small changes the Sun undergoes during its solar cycle.”
The space agency adds on its Thermosphere Climate Index (TCI) “a weather metric that tells us how the top of Earth’s atmosphere (or ‘thermosphere’) is responding to solar activity” that “the top of Earth’s atmosphere is approximately 10 times cooler than it was during the record-setting Solar Max of 1957-58.”
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