credit:NASA skylab

credit:NASA skylab



There have been very few sunspots on the sun for the last two years. So far it has been cool for late Spring in the greater New York City area. These two facts may be related.

Sunspots are magnetic storms that well up from the solar depths to the surface of the sun. It is believed that jet streams within the sun are responsible for sunspots appearing on the surface. Coronal mass ejections and the related solar flares are associated with sunspots. Historically sunspots wax and wane in eleven year cycles, though this is variable. The low point when there are few sunspots is known as the solar minimum and the high point of a cycle is called the solar maximum. We are now in a deep solar minimum. The year 2008 had the fewest sunspots since 1913.

During a solar maximum, the next of which was predicted for 2012, there is much solar magnetic activity in the form of sunspots and often solar flares and coronal mass ejections. There is disagreement among scientists as to whether this coming solar maximum will actually happen in 2012, because we are currently in a deep solar minimum and whether or not it will be a mild solar maximum. When the solar maximums are severe they can disrupt life on earth, particularly within our electrical grid. A high solar maximum replete with coronal mass ejections can cause power outages due to melting of the transformers within the electrical power grid. If you think of everything in our culture that we use that is dependent on electricity, you can imagine how severe such an event could be. Unlike a typical power outage, which can usually be fixed within a few days, melted transformers could take a long time to replace, especially if the problem were widespread. To get an idea of what might happen we need to study the great geomagnetic storm of May 1921 and the Carrington Event of August-September 1859. As dire as those events were, a similar event today would cause greater devastation due to the obvious fact that we use so much more electricity today compared to then. In 1859 there was virtually no dependence on electricity at all. The upside of solar flares are beautiful bright auroras observed close to the poles.

Getting back to solar minimums: There were few sunspots observed during a time in the second part of the 17th Century called the Maunder Minimum. This time was also known as the Little Ice Age. It is believed by most solar scientists that when there are few sunspots and few solar flares less energy reaches the Earth from the Sun and therefore lower general temperatures result. Does this mean that global warming is not true? No! Solar weather is a different force put upon the Earth’s climate than manmade global warming. It is unlikely that the current solar minimum will last long enough to vastly affect the results of manmade global warming. Obviously if the Sun’s output dramatically changed that could end life on Earth. However such changes usually occur in geologic time across millenia, in other words, very, very slowly. 

Is it possible that some being or entity is giving us a second chance to remedy global warming? I wonder if either a Supreme Being, or the emotional energy of this biosphere called Earth (Gaia and the other living entities on Earth including humanity) or the influence of an advanced alien culture interested in the preservation of a habitable planet is exercising influence on our star the Sun, giving us, the foolish and myopic human race a second chance to fix the global warming problem we created?

I support Earth Hour taking place on Saturday March 28, 2009 from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. This is a world wide (84 countries) action by the World Wildlife Federation to have people turn off their lights and non-essential appliances. I’ll be turning it all off except for my refrigerator and I call on everyone to do the same. Last year 36 million in the USA took part. Hopefully this year there will be even more participation.  The organizers of Earth Hour state that the purpose of it is “to make a global statement of concern about climate change and to demonstrate commitment to finding solutions.”

This brings to mind an article I very recently read on New Scientist about how a large sunspot array on the Sun could cause a major catastrophe on Earth. It seems that on an equinox when the sunspot cycle has reached its peak, the sun could shoot out a blast of highly charged energy particles called plasma in a coronal mass ejection and if the solar wind makes a direct hit on Earth it could take out communications and electrical power on our planet by delivering a major overdose of direct current to large electrical transformers. This could easily cause a domino effect destroying various aspects of our infrastructure. Oddly this event could happen in the much feared year of 2012, due to a possible peak of sunspot activity at that time. Currently the sun is virtually devoid of spots which is in itself slightly unusual.

All this reminds me that it would be preferable to “get off the grid” and become energy independent. Solar and wind energy seem very attractive at this time. I also wonder about zero point energy and how technologically far away  that might be.