Recently, news about the so-called ‘solar minimum’ has been appearing in our news feed whenever we scroll on Facebook. More often than not, it is accompanied by theories that such a phenomenon will kick-start another global ice age, setting fear among netizens.
However, before you start reciting the Starks of Winterfell’s (Game of Thrones) words, ‘Winter is Coming’, it is time to better understand what we are really facing. What is this solar minimum? Why shouldn’t it be a cause to spread panic?
What is solar minimum and why is it happening?
Frankly speaking, our sun is fine. Nothing weird is going on with it. In fact, it’s part of the sun’s cycle—called the solar cycle—which goes on in about an 11-year pattern.
At certain points in this cycle, the sun’s brightness may increase, and there may also be higher appearance of sunspots and solar flares. Sunspots are described as dark patches in the sun and solar flares is that sudden increase of brightness.
Now, just as brightness could suddenly increase, sunspots could also lower. Low sunspot activity is called solar minimum.
During a period of solar minimum, the sun does not really become less active, rather it becomes active in just an entirely different way. Such activities include an increase in development of long-lived corona holes (regions in the sun where its corona is dark). This is actually an interesting phenomenon to astronauts and to those studying space activity.
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Should I be concerned?
Even now, the sun is currently undergoing solar minimum, yet we live normally, and we cannot really feel changes which may prove rumors of a small ice age. It is deemed that this event going on with the sun would last longer than usual, but don’t worry, long periods of solar minimum has happened in the past.
However, sunspot activity has not entirely ceased. There are two new sunspots that were recently discovered by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Will there be another ice age?
If you aren’t sure yet, a blog post by NASA’s Global Change team confirms that there is no impending ice age because the sun is just ‘resting’. It’s a normal thing the biggest star has to undergo.
There are even phenomena where the sun’s activity dips so low that a ‘Grand Solar Minimum’ occurs. The last recorded grand solar minimum happened in the 1600s—coincidentally, a mini ice age due to cooler global temperature was occurring at that time. Still, this short ice age was most probably caused by a rise of volcanic activity which is uncommon in our present day. That means even if we are to experience a grand solar minimum today, it will not be a cause of fear over a possible ice age.
What about global warming?
NASA also said that even if the grand solar minimum were to last a century, warm temperatures would still carry on as greenhouse gas emissions have now become another factor to warm the earth. In fact, NASA emphasizes that global warming is six times greater than any grand solar minimum.
With that said, there are more things to concern yourself about such as the climate change happening in our world, or how you could take part in curving global warming in your own little way. Just as we are facing a lockdown now due to the pandemic, so is the sun lying low from its usual activities.