By Jimmy WestlakeÂ
There are few things in our lives that seem as constant and dependable as the sun. Day after day, it provides the warmth and energy that we must have to survive on this planet. Without it, Earth would be in an unimaginable deep freeze near absolute zero.
So, it comes as a bit of surprise when we learn the sun is misbehaving a bit and not following its usual routine. The routine is this: Every 11 years, the number of sunspots and other active regions on the sun reach a frenzy of activity, followed by a period of relative calm. Like a heartbeat of cosmic proportions, this 11-year rise and fall in solar activity has gone on for decades, even centuries, with few interruptions. The last solar maximum occurred between the years 2001 and 2002, when giant sunspots and record-breaking solar flares erupted into space. Clouds of charged particles from the sun generated brilliant displays of the Northern Lights over Colorado and points even farther south. Since then, solar activity has waned, as expected when nearing the end of a solar cycle and another solar minimum.
The problem is that this solar minimum is lasting for an uncomfortably long time. The average solar cycle lasts for 131 months, or about 10.9 years. The current cycle already has lasted 144 months (12 years) and we are still counting. Sunspots during the last two years have been scarcer than henâ€™s teeth, and the few that have appeared have been tiny and short-lived. Every morning, I check out the daily image of the sun on www.spaceweather.com and scan for sunspots, but every day itâ€™s the same story: â€œThe sun is blank today â€”Â zero sunspots.â€ The last time the sunspot cycle went into extended hibernation was during the so-called Maunder Minimum between the years 1645 and 1715. This period coincided with Europeâ€™s â€œLittle Ice Age,â€ one of the most dramatic episodes of global cooling in recorded history.
Read the rest of this piece at Steamboat Pilot & Today.