You may remember that in 2008 and 2009, there was a lot of talk about the quiet sun. There were days and days without sunspots. People who knew a little history remembered that there was a “Little ice age” in Europe centered on the Maunder Minimum, the 70 years when there were no sunspots at all. Well, maybe with our better instruments they would have seen some sunspots, but basically, there were no visible spots for at least 70 years, from 1645-1715.
Because it was so cold at that time, people wonder whether sunspots make for warm weather; and conversely, whether a lack of sunspots could make for cold weather. Perhaps I should call it cold climate because the effect is not instant – we don’t get hot weather the day of a sunspot, and it was actually cold not just for 70 years, but for about 500 years, until the mid-19th century.
So take a look at the sunspot history of the 19th and 20th century. Faithfully, every eleven years, there are lots of sunspots, and then fewer in the years between. A sunspot maximum, a sunspot minimum, regular as a clock.
Now, 2008, or maybe mid-2007, was supposed to be the minimum for the current sunspot cycle, so it was okay to be short of sunspots those years. But this minimum was a little too minimal for comfort. There were 200 days in a row with no sunspots. And 2008 stretched into 2009 with the spots still very sparse. Now we are at 2013, which should be the solar maximum, and we have some sunspots every day, but not very many and not very bright.
Some people are hoping that the real max will come later; maybe the little bump we see halfway through 2011 was a fake max or the first part of a twin max.
The red line that marks the prediction is looking more hopeful than plausible. This doesn’t look like much of a max, and the signs that we should already be seeing for the onset of the next solar cycle are seriously subdued.
While some people are still talking about global warming, others are saying that, yes, maybe there was some warming in the late 20th century, which was also a time of nice sun cycles you’ll notice, but there hasn’t been a speck of warming for 15 years, and if history is any indication, we could be in Big Trouble, not with warm, but with cold.
So are we still talking about Earth rings?
We are still talking about Earth Rings.
Two things can make dust fall out of the ring. One is that there is some natural decay in any orbit. Eventually, gravity is going to win all the way and the dust is going to fall. Even the Moon itself is subject to this: it will come home; don’t worry, not soon.
But another influence on space dust would be interaction with the solar wind. The solar wind is the stream of particles that flows out of solar storms. The particles in the solar wind are small, not even atoms, but they are fast and charged, and if there is a ring, they are bound to disturb its particles, and that will thin it out, blast by blast. An unstable orbit is more likely to dump its contents. The YORP effect.
With a quiet sun, however, rings could be expected to grow heavy and dense.
That is the reason for certain parts of the ring forecast. It is based on the position of the rings, which is a very simple calculation based on physics, not on observation: if there is a disc of rings, we can say exactly where it must be.
Second, the forecast is based on the hypothesis that the rings are thickening. If there are rings, they would be expected to thicken during solar quietude. This means more shading and a colder effect on the Earth.
The ring forecast calls for a warm, still summer (likely to involve re-initiation of global warmism), then the onset of autumn as usual, maybe a bit on the harsh side.
Tomorrow, we will look at a simulation to explain and extend the ring forecast.