Brookings’ Gregg Easterbrook weighs in on the under-performing sun in his ESPN column, “Tuesday Morning Quarterback.”
Congress Immediately Voted to Bail Out the Sun: Here’s a concern to take your mind off credit-market worries: is there something wrong with the sun? From a March 2006 government news release: “The next sunspot cycle will be 30-50 percent stronger than the last one, according to a breakthrough forecast using a computer model of solar dynamics developed by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).” Instead the current sunspot cycle, which began in January, is almost eerily meek. The Space Weather Prediction Center — a real place — said last week that sunspots had been observed on only 71 of the 276 days of 2008 to that point, which is scant activity, hardly the predicted strong sunspot cycle. Meanwhile, research using the Ulysses sun-study space probe recently reported that the “solar wind,” charged particles blown off the sun, is at its lowest strength since measurements began, about 50 years ago. The relationship between sunspots and solar output is poorly understood. It is known that from 1645 to 1715, when almost no sunspots were observed, global temperatures declined and the Little Ice Age occurred; people skated on the canals of Holland, though surely shivered the rest of the time. The sun has been producing a stable amount of heat and light for at least 600 million years, and probably a great deal longer than that. (The sun is thought to be about 4.5 billion years old; early in its existence, the sun is thought to have been “faint.”) So probably the sunspot and solar wind fluctuations don’t mean much. But they are spooky — and oh, the magnetic polarity of the Earth may reverse in the year 2012.