This is way more in my good friend Borepatch’s area than it is mine, but I’m going to
risk making myself look like a fool expand my horizons by linking to this scary article.
WAITING for solar fireworks to reach a grand finale next year? Um, sorry, looks like you already missed them. Structures in the sun’s corona indicate that the peak in our star’s latest cycle of activity has been and gone, at least in its northern hemisphere.
The southern hemisphere, meanwhile, is on a sluggish rise to solar maximum and may not hit its peak until 2014.
This bizarre asymmetry strengthens a theory that has been bubbling among sun watchers for the past few years: our star is headed for hibernation. Having the sun’s outbursts turned off for a while would provide a better baseline for studying how they influence Earth’s climate.
While it might provide a better baseline for studying how sunspot influence Earth’s climate, there’s a good chance it will be a much colder baseline.
Such a large asymmetry between hemispheres could be a sign of big changes ahead, says Steven Tobias, a mathematician at the University of Leeds, UK, who models what drives the sun’s magnetic field. According to his models, such a situation precedes an extended quiet phase called a grand minimum. “Changes in symmetry are more indicative of going into a grand minimum than the strength of the cycle,” he says.
Grand minima can last for decades. The previous one took place between 1645 and 1715, and has been linked to the little ice age in Europe. A new one might also cause localised cold periods, but many climate scientists see a silver lining to such a turn of events: a grand minimum offers ideal conditions for testing the effects of solar variability on Earth’s climate (see “Our star’s subtle influence“).
Pardon me if I’m not as excited about a Grand minimum despite my new snow blower. The fact is that I hate winter a bit more each year and plan to move somewhere warmer as soon as I can. That’s if there is somewhere warmed to move to. And yes, I know that we might not see the effects of this until my children are my age and I’m long gone, but I’m still worried.
I hope Borepatch will comment, but somehow I don’t think he’ll be reassuring.