Is the sun getting cooler?

(Source: NASA)

Is the sun getting cooler? That’s a question a lot of researchers are asking and much of the evidence indicates the sun will get at least 7 percent cooler by 2050.

Now, there are instruments which precisely measure solar radiation but one of the most basic ways is by counting sunspots. (Note: Do not ever look directly at the sun without adequate eye protection.) You do need a special telescope to see the sunspots.

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Here’s how it works at its most basic level: The fewer sunspots observed, the “cooler” the sun gets.

Lately, there hasn’t been a lot, nearly 50 percent of the days so far this year no spots were observed. This recent NASA photo does show two sunspots, both slightly larger than earth.

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And here is what the sun looks like with lots of sunspots. We've just finished a period of very high sunspot activity.

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Why does this matter? Less energy from the sun means a cooler earth. In the 1600's, the so-called Maunder Minimum occurred, also known as the “Little Ice Age” as worldwide temperatures plummeted.

Check out this chart of sunspot activity.

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Notice the Dalton Minimum in the 1800's? In 1816, it was the year with no summer. That was also probably due to the eruption of a huge volcano, Tambora, in Indonesia.

But worldwide cooling carried on for decades. Some researchers directly link the French Revolution and the failure of harvests to these colder conditions. (Another volcano, this one in Iceland, also erupted in the 1780s and probably was a factor as well.)

A scientist at UCSD in La Jolla says we’re headed into a “grand” minimum of solar activity which would “worst” than the Maunder Minimum.

Interestingly, none of the researchers publishing predictive sunspot data think that any “cooling” will have much of an impact on global warming. Scientists are already modeling it and while there may be some initial cooling, it’s not expected to be much and warming will continue.

However, add to the equation a big volcanic eruption and things in the short term of a year or two could be much cooler. This is a super interesting topic.

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