The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier reported that solar activity has little effect on Earth’s temperatures, thus, it would make little difference to climate change. However, the IPCC warns that “more research to investigate the effects of solar behavior on climate is needed before the magnitude of solar effects on climate can be stated with certainty.”
In 2019, NASA revealed images suggesting the Sun has reached “solar minimum,” a phenomenon when fewer sunspots appear on the Sun, marking the end of a solar cycle. According to scientists, the Sun embarks on a new solar cycle every 11 years, which they believe is controlled by its magnetic field. Currently, we are in the solar cycle. Solar activity largely depends on the Sun’s magnetic field, which goes through a periodic cycle. In this cycle, the south and north poles essentially switch spots, and it takes another 11 years or so for them to switch back.
The Sun becomes less active during the midpoint of the solar cycle. This is because of the Sun’s increasing activities, which means more solar flareups and outflow of radiation from our host star. Recent reports revealed that 2020 has already seen 100 days when our Sun has no sunspots, which denotes a lack of solar activity. Scientists say that this is the second year in a row that the Sun has been inactive.
"So far this year, the Sun has been blank 76% of the time, a rate surpassed only once before in the Space Age. Last year, 2019, the Sun was blank 77% of the time. Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep solar minimum, indeed," experts said at Spaceweather.
Sunspots Virtually Disappeared
Recently, the Sun has been having a lockdown or what is aptly called solar minimum, which could cause freezing weather, earthquakes, and famine. Scientists discovered this as they found fewer sunspots this year. Sunspots, which are dark spots that mark the Sun's surface, are an indication of solar activity. According to Nature World News, an online site that brings out the science geek in every reader, fostering an improved appreciation of our environment, they observed 50 sunspots this year, compared to the 40,000 to 50,000 that usually happens in normal activity.
“Sunspot counts suggest it is one of the deepest of the past century. The sun’s magnetic field has become weak, allowing extra cosmic rays into the solar system. Excess cosmic rays pose a health hazard to astronauts and polar air travelers, affect the electro-chemistry of Earth’s upper atmosphere and may help trigger lightning,” astronomer Dr. Tony Phillips said.
NASA scientists said that the solar minimum will not have an impact on Earth. Instead, the Sun’s effect on Earth is based on its ultraviolet radiation rather than its total amount of energy or activity. Unfortunately, experts said that they will not be able to forecast solar weather because the Sun's activity is hard to predict. It has always been difficult to observe since most spacecraft aren't built to get close enough and survive the heat of the star.
"The solar cycle itself, it’s to some extent very random. It’s a highly nonlinear system, the process of interaction between the magnetic field and charged particles,” Alexander Shapiro, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, said.
According to INews, a British national morning paper, the activity of the Sun years following the solar minimum is what people should be worried about. "After our Sun passes the current Solar Minimum, a solar activity like eruptive prominences are expected to become more common over the next few years,” NASA said. It could expel hot gas into the solar system, just like what happened to the “Carrington Event” of 1859.
"The Carrington Event compressed the Earth’s magnetic field so violently that currents were created in telegraph wires so great that many wires sparked and gave telegraph operators shock. Were a Carrington-class event to impact the Earth today, speculation holds that damage might occur to global power grids and electronics on a scale never yet experienced,” NASA explained.
Another Dalton Minimum?
NASA said that this solar lockdown is an opportunity for space missions because it can improve the making of forecasts about space weather. However, there’s a downside to this. According to the New York Post, a daily newspaper in New York City, scientists fear that this phenomenon could be a repeat of the Dalton Minimum, which happened between 1790 and 1830 — leading to periods of brutal cold, crop loss, famine, and powerful volcanic eruptions. During these years, both sunspot count and solar activity were reduced.
For over 20 years, temperatures dropped by up to 2 degrees Celsius, which caused a disruption of the world’s food production, leading to famine. Food riots and starvation spread all over Europe. Temperatures decreased so much that River Thames froze and lightning storms lit up the skies during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Earthquakes and tsunamis were also reported during these years, which killed tens of thousands of people. Ice on ponds and lakes was reported in northwestern Pennsylvania in both July and August, and Virginia had frosts in August. Crops that had managed to sprout were frozen out in early June, replanted, and frozen again in July. As a result, very few crops were harvested and yields were extremely poor. In turn, food and grain prices skyrocketed. In 1815, for instance, oats sold for $0.12 a bushel but by the next year, a bushel would set you back $0.92.
In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted and was dubbed as the second-largest volcanic eruption in 2,000 years, claiming at least 71,000 lives. The following year, the “Year Without a Summer” occurred driven by a combination of already low temperatures and after-effects of the second-largest volcanic eruption in 2000 years: Mount Tambora’s VEI 7 on April 10, 1815. One Virginia resident recalled, “In June another snowfall came and folks went sleighing. On July 4, water froze in cisterns, and snow fell again, with Independence Day celebrants moving inside churches where hearth fires warmed things a mite.”