For the second time this month, our Sun has lost its sunspots and gone completely blank and scientists fear that could trigger an impending mini ice age not seen since the 17th century.
The lack of sun spots suggest our star is entering a period of decreased activity, something scientists refer to as a “solar minimum” and it means Earth could be in for a very long cold winter, reports VencoreWeather.
“If history is any guide, it is safe to say that weak solar activity for a prolonged period of time can have a cooling impact on global temperatures in the troposphere which is the bottommost layer of Earth’s atmosphere, and where we all live.”
Meteorologist and renowned sun-watcher Paul Dorian first noticed the blank sun phenomenon when he examined solar pictures from NASA dated June 4 and then again June 23, something not seen since 2011.
The sun goes through changes every 11 years that cycle between increased and decreased sunspot activity, known as the solar minimum; the next one is set to arrive in 2019 or 2020.
The last time the sun cycled through such a long solar minimum was back in 1645 during a 70-year phase scientists refer to as the “Maunder Minimum,” when the English river Thames froze over.
A less intense, but still very cold, mini ice age appeared almost a century later; the Dalton Minimum lasted for 40 years, from 1790 to 1830.
Dorian’s solar research is backed by findings from North Umbria University Professor Valentina Zharkova who predicted a decrease in the number of sunspots and a coming ice age between 2020 and 2050, reports the New York Post.
“It has good mathematical background and reliable data, which has been handled correctly. In fact, our results can be repeated by any researchers with the similar data available in many solar observatories, so they can derive their own evidence of upcoming Maunder Minimum in solar magnetic field and activity.”
The lack of sunspots and minimal solar activity could also prove harmful to astronauts in space. During solar minimums, solar rays have an easier time of reaching Earth and any astronauts in orbit risk having their DNA “shattered.”
Solar storms shield the Earth from damaging interstellar radiation, so during solar minimums the decreased radiation from the sun means a lower aerodynamic drag for the atmosphere. That means satellites have a harder time staying in orbit, space junk tends to gather in one place, and life gets more dangerous for planes flying over the poles and astronauts in space.
This decreased protection from the sun’s rays could also make an Earth to Mars transit more difficult for astronauts to survive. That’s something Elon Musk and his SpaceX team will have to consider if they plan on launching trade routes to Mars every two years with the goal of establishing a Martian colony.
Dorian’s research on solar cycles and sunspot activity suggests an impending mini ice age that could make life on Earth very cold with an extended winter, reports the New York Post.
“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.
Since the last mini ice age occurred in 1645 and then again in 1790, no modern-day scientific measurements have been taken, and there are those who argue the Earth’s temperature change wasn’t caused by solar activity, but by volcanic activity.
Others argue that summers during the “Maunder Minimum” mini ice age were still warm and recordings of global temperatures from that time are inaccurate.
Are you ready for a Game of Thrones style winter?
[Photo by NASA via Getty Images]