There’s a lot of evidence mounting that solar cycle 25 will usher in a new grand solar minimum. Since about October 2005, when the sun’s magnetic activity went into a sharp fall, solar activity has been markedly lower, with solar cycle 24 being the lowest in over 100 years.
Simon Constable, in Forbes writes:
The question is whether we will enter another grand solar minimum just like the Maunder minimum which, if history is a guide, would mean a period of much colder weather winters and summers.
Once upon a time, people would worship the sun as a deity. It was with good reason that they did so for the sun provided much of what sustains life on our small planet, warmth and bountiful harvests. How would we survive if the sun stopped beating down on us? It was a real fear.
Then came science and industrialization. As the new era took over, we mostly forgot the sun and its importance to our existence. (Of course, most people occasionally complain that it is either too sunny or not sunny enough.)
But just because we stopped paying close attention doesn’t mean that it lost any of its importance to our world. And neither does the fact that the life of the sun is far more complex than many people realize. Indeed, if we are to believe the experts,the sun’s behavior is about to change in a way that could have dramatic consequences for the food we eat and the broader economy.
The remarkable tale includes skilled amateurs as well as professional academics, the rivalries between the main players, and a probable husband-wife murder-suicide thrown into the mix. Yes, there is a lot in the story of studying the sun, and the author does a masterful job of making it a fascinating read. Not too shabby when many scientific books do more to muddle the reader than to enlighten.
The names which might be familiar include the following: space observatory pioneer George Ellery Hale; discoverer of Uranus William Herschel; and astronomer Edward Maunder. It was the last of those men who identified a period from about 1640 through 1715 when the spots on the Sun disappeared. Usually, the number of dark blemishes on the solar surface tends to rise and fall in somewhat predictable 11-year cycles.
The period when the spots vanished, a so-called grand solar minimum, also coincided with a sort of mini-ice age with harsh winters and short cool summers. It became known as the Maunder minimum after the man who studied it.