The face of the sun was nearly spotless this month as our star marches toward solar minimum, hitting its lowest activity level since 2011.
Images captured by Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory from Nov 14-18 reveal just a handful of barely-visible spots on the surface of the sun, which is otherwise as blank as a cue ball.
The sun follows a pendulum-like pattern of activity over roughly an 11-year period, and while scientists say this behaviour is not unusual, some have warned the current trend could send Earth into a ‘mini ice age.’
According to Nasa, the number of sunspots appears to be dwindling faster than expected.
But, following the last activity peak in early 2014, they say the solar minimum shouldn’t come until 2021.
The researchers say they expect to see more, and larger, sunspots in the time between – but, only time will tell.
We’re currently in Cycle 24, which began in 2008.
In late June, it was revealed that the sun had entered the quietest period for more than a century.
Vencore Weather claimed the sun had gone into ‘cue ball’ mode for the second time that month, with images from Nasa showing no large visible sunspots on its surface.
We’ve had the smallest number of sunspots in this cycle since Cycle 14, which reached its maximum in February of 1906.
On June 4th, the sun went completely spotless and activity remained low for around four days.
This follows another period of inactivity in February when another image of Nasa showed the sun in ‘cueball mode’.
‘The blank sun is a sign that the next solar minimum is approaching and there will be an increasing number of spotless days over the next few years,’ wrote Vencore Weather.
The previous solar cycle, Solar Cycle 23, peaked in 2000-2002 with many furious solar storms.
During Solar Max, huge sunspots and intense solar flares are a daily occurrence. Auroras appear in Florida. Radiation storms knock out satellites.
The last such episode took place in the years around 2000-2001.
During Solar Minimum, the opposite occurs. Solar flares are almost non-existent while whole weeks go by without a single, tiny sunspot to break the monotony of the blank sun. This is what we are experiencing now.
The longest minimum on record, the Maunder Minimum of 1645-1715, lasted an incredible 70 years.