Woke up this morning in Manchester, England on my way to the Lake District and a conference on the death of stars like the sun. Thus it was with some amusement that I turned to New Scientist, one of my favorite places to learn new science, and read about the strange behavior of our own star. The article by Stuart Clarke begins
SUNSPOTS come and go, but recently they have mostly gone. For centuries, astronomers have recorded when these dark blemishes on the solar surface emerge, only for them to fade away again after a few days, weeks or months. Thanks to their efforts, we know that sunspot numbers ebb and flow in cycles lasting about 11 years.
But for the past two years, the sunspots have mostly been missing. Their absence, the most prolonged for nearly a hundred years, has taken even seasoned sun watchers by surprise. "This is solar behavior we haven't seen in living memory," says David Hathaway, a physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The magnetic activity of stars like sun, which is the root cause of the sunspot cycle, is still poorly understood even after decades of intense study. It's more than an academic concern. Giant eruptions from the sun called Coronal Mass Ejections cause "space weather storms" which, if large enough, could lead to massive disruption of electric grids on Earth. And while the role of solar activity has been ruled out as the main driver for the climate change happening now there are still import questions that remain to answered about its' role in longer term cycles like the ice ages.
All of which makes the current, curious lull in sunspots an engaging and important question for scientists.
Enjoy the read. I am off for Bangers and Mash