Way back in 2006 I brought (lugged) my telescope to my youngest daughter’s Grade One class to give the kiddies a close-up look at the sun. Bear in mind, without proper filtration, looking at the sun is extremely dangerous (if you want to retain your vision, at all).
With the right gear, however, the sun shows itself to be a beautiful orb with darker patches called “sunspots” traversing its brilliant surface. These spots are always a treat for people to see, in part because they reveal texture and depth to what we normally think of as simply a bright blob in the daytime firmament, and, they are often about the size of the Earth, so they offer a direct and proportional example of our size relationship with the center of our solar system.
Sunspots increase with activity, and it was fortunate that a few were present for all the burgeoning astronomers anxious to peer at the engine that drives all light and life on our planet.
The interesting thing is, since that time, our sun has gone into it’s predictable 11 year Solar Minimum, with less activity, and therefore fewer sunspots.
But this Solar Minimum seems different. It’s lasting longer, and has been a bit deeper than previous Solar Minima. 2007 was in the bottom 10 of spotless years for the 20th century, 2008 was even more sparsely spotted, and now 2009 has taken that trend even further!
Is THIS why in the Northeast USA we’re near June, and still consistently reaching temps only in the 60’s? Is this why Las Vegas recorded snowfall later in the year than ever before? Is this why our European skiers were recently so giddy? Maybe yes, maybe no. But beyond the anecdotal experience, one wonders what would happen if we were at the threshold of a modern Maunder Minimum.
Check out Spaceweather.com It’s a cool site, and great portal.
Then, when you have time, look up Maunder Minimum.
Then rent or buy the IMAX film, “Solar Max”.
Oh, and don’t put away your sweaters just yet.