Scientists studying sunspots for the past 2 decades have concluded that the magnetic field that triggers their formation has been steadily declining. If the current trend continues, by 2016 the sun's face may become spotless and remain that way for decades—a phenomenon that in the 17th century coincided with a prolonged period of cooling on Earth.I will find it hysterically funny if all the activists who have been working so hard to destroy economic progress in order to reduce CO2 were doing this right in the teeth of a mini ice age!
Sunspots appear when upwellings of the sun's magnetic field trap ionized plasma—or electrically charged, superheated gas—on the surface. Normally, the gas would release its heat and sink back below the surface, but the magnetic field inhibits this process. From Earth, the relatively cool surface gas looks like a dark blemish on the sun.
Astronomers have been observing and counting sunspots since Galileo began the practice in the early 17th century. From those studies, scientists have long known that the sun goes through an 11-year cycle, in which the number of sunspots spikes during a period called the solar maximum and drops—sometimes to zero—during a time of inactivity called the solar minimum.
The last solar minimum should have ended last year, but something peculiar has been happening. Although solar minimums normally last about 16 months, the current one has stretched over 26 months—the longest in a century. One reason, according to a paper submitted to the International Astronomical Union Symposium No. 273, an online colloquium, is that the magnetic field strength of sunspots appears to be waning.
Since 1990, solar astronomers Matthew Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, have been studying the magnetic strength of sunspots using a measurement called Zeeman splitting. Named after the Dutch physicist who discovered it, the splitting is the distance that appears between a pair of lines in a spectrograph of the light given off by iron atoms in the sun’s atmosphere. The wider the splitting, the greater the intensity of the magnetic field that created it. After examining the Zeeman splitting of 1500 sunspots, Penn and Livingston conclude that the average magnetic field strength of sunspots has declined from about 2700 gauss—the average strength of Earth's field is less than 1 gauss—to about 2000 gauss. The reasons for the decrease are not clearly understood, but if the trend continues, sunspot field strength will drop to 1500 gauss by as early as 2016. Because 1500 gauss is the minimum required to produce sunspots, Livingston says, at that level they would no longer be possible.
The phenomenon has happened before. Sunspots disappeared almost entirely between 1645 and 1715 during a period called the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with decades of lower-than-normal temperatures in Europe nicknamed the Little Ice Age. But Livingston cautions that the zero-sunspot prediction could be premature. "It may not happen," he says. "Only the passage of time will tell whether the solar cycle will pick up." Still, he adds, there's no doubt that sunspots "are not very healthy right now." Instead of the robust spots surrounded by halolike zones called penumbrae, as seen during the last solar maximum (photo), most of the current crop looks "rather peaked," with few or no penumbrae.
The full paper can be read here. From the introductory section of the paper:
Sunspots are cool dark regions on the solar surface with strong magnetic fields. There have been few direct measurements of changes in the physical parameters of sunspots, but here we present a study which shows that sunspots are becoming warmer and have weaker magnetic fields. The number of sunspots visible on the Sun normally shows an 11-year periodicity, and the current sunspot cycle (cycle 23) had a maximum in 2001, and is entering a minimum phase with few sunspots currently visible. Our data show that there are additional changes occurring in sunspots, independent of the sunspot cycle, and these trends suggest that sunspots will disappear completely. Such an event would not be unprecedented, since during a famous episode from 1645-1715, known as the Maunder Minimum, the normal 11-year periodicity vanished and there were virtually no sunspots visible on the solar surface. Recent studies of the appearance rate and latitudinal drift of sunspots and of the solar magnetic field predict that the number of sunspots visible in future cycles will be significantly reduced. Finally the occurrence of prolonged periods with no sunspots is important to climate studies, since the Maunder Minimum was shown to correspond with the reduced average global temperatures on the Earth.Here in British Columbia the government has imposed a "carbon tax" to try to price the use of fuels and heating sources so high that people will be forced to either shiver in the cold, pay more, or buy expensive equipment to reduce energy consumption. It will be hysterically and pathetically funny to watch the working poor shivering in the cold as a mini ice age comes on and the government busily collecting a tax that has been imposed to deal with a supposed incipient "global warming" climate change.