The quiet sun is puzzling scientists - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

The quiet sun is puzzling scientists

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The sun goes through an 11-year sunspot cycle, oscillating between high and low solar activity. The sunspot cycle is responsible for increased solar storms that can alter our daily activities here on earth. The most intense solar flares can create geomagnetic storms on earth if the flare hits earth directly. This has happened many times in the past occasionally causing radio blackouts, overloading the electrical grid, and producing the northern lights in southern latitudes.

The last solar minimum between 2007 and 2009 was the longest and deepest in the past 100 years. Now that solar activity has picked up, scientists are once again trying to understand the sun's behavior. Solar maximum was expected this year, and while activity jumped up in 2011 and early 2012 it has recently stalled. Solar activity has dropped in recent weeks and on Tuesday the activity hit a year low. NASA said that the current solar maximum is the weakest they have observed in 50 years and it may be the lowest in a century or more depending on what happens later this year and in 2014.

A few researchers suggest that the current solar maximum is double peaked with one peak that has already arrived and another that will arrive in 2014 or early 2015 at the latest. Regardless, the current solar cycle is currently well below predicted activity and most experts believe the sun will become more active this fall through 2014.

Regardless of what happens in the next year or two, building research shows the sun is warning us of a prolonged weak period on the sun that could last 10 to 50 years. Prolonged weak periods on the sun occur every few hundred years, and it has been more than 200 years since the last slow period. If this were to occur, the number of geomagnetic storms on earth would be very low in the coming decades. On the other hand, studies show the sun's solar cycle does impact earth's climate. An active solar cycle will produce more solar radiation on earth and thus increase the overall global temperature by a small amount. A lack of sunspots for a prolonged period could decrease the global temperatures slightly with all other factors being equal. 

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