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Weather Blog: Sun is experiencing a solar minimum

The sun is experiencing a solar minimum with over 100 days without sunspots.

Posted: May 20, 2020 3:10 PM

(CNN) -- At the center of our solar system, the sun is a constant force keeping planets in orbit, providing Earth with just the right amount of light and warmth for life and even governing our daily schedules. While we're used to the sun rising and setting each day, the sun itself is incredibly dynamic.

And just like us, it goes through phases and changes. Over time, those changes in our star have become more predictable. Currently, it's going through a less active phase, called a solar minimum.

The sun experiences regular 11-year intervals including energetic peaks of activity, followed by low points.

During the peak, the sun showcases more sunspots and solar flares.

In a solar minimum, the sun is much quieter, meaning less sunspots and energy.

Scientists at NASA say we're currently in a "Grand Solar Minimum." The last time this occurred was between 1650 and 1715, during what's known as the Little Ice Age in Earth's Northern Hemisphere, "when combination of cooling from volcanic aerosols and low solar activity produced lower surface temperatures," according to NASA's Global Climate Change blog.

But this solar minimum won't spark another ice age, they say. And that's likely due to climate change.

"The warming caused by the greenhouse gas emissions from the human burning of fossil fuels is six times greater than the possible decades-long cooling from a prolonged Grand Solar Minimum," they wrote.

"Even if a Grand Solar Minimum were to last a century, global temperatures would continue to warm. Because more factors than just variations in the Sun's output change global temperatures on Earth, the most dominant of those today being the warming coming from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions."

Scientists have known this solar minimum was coming because it's a regular aspect of the sun's cycle. Sunspots were peaking in 2014, with low points beginning in 2019, according to NASA.

The sun is also responsible for what's known as space weather, sending particles and cosmic rays streaming across our solar system. The sun's strongly magnetized sunspots release solar flares, which can send X-rays and ultraviolet radiation hurtling toward Earth.

Even when the sun is quiet during the solar minimum, it can be active in other ways, like coronal holes that open in the sun's atmosphere and send out blazing streams of energized particles flying through the solar system on rapid solar wind.

Much like solar flares, these streams of particles during a solar minimum can disrupt the communication and GPS we rely on from satellites.

"We see these holes throughout the solar cycle, but during solar minimum, they can last for a long time — six months or more," said Dean Pesnell, project scientist of the Solar Dynamics Observatory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in a 2017 NASA blog post.

More highly energetic particles called galactic cosmic rays can reach Earth, specifically its upper atmosphere, during a solar minimum. These are created by explosions across our Milky Way galaxy, like supernovae.

"During solar minimum, the sun's magnetic field weakens and provides less shielding from these cosmic rays," Pesnell said. "This can pose an increased threat to astronauts traveling through space."

This week, the NASA Sun & Space account shared this on Twitter amid concerns about the solar minimum. "The Sun goes through regular cycles of high & low activity. This cycle affects the frequency of space weather events, but it doesn't have a major effect on Earth's climate — even an extended minimum wouldn't have a significant effect on global temperature."

This solar minimum ends solar cycle 24. Early predictions estimated the peak of solar cycle 25 will occur in July 2025, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The solar cycle forecast is based on a NOAA and NASA co-chaired international panel. They agree that solar cycle 25 will be similar to cycle 24.

Studying the sun
In August 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe to draw closer to the sun than any satellite before. It's a unique opportunity to study "the star in our backyard," as NASA Heliophysics Division Director Nicola Fox is fond of saying. And it's witnessing the sun during solar minimum up close.

The probe was designed to help answer fundamental questions about the solar wind that streams out from the sun, flinging energetic particles across the solar system. Its instruments may also provide insight about why the sun's corona, the outer atmosphere of the star, is so much hotter than the actual surface. The corona is 1 million kelvins, while the surface is around 6,000 kelvins.

Understanding the solar wind and the blazing heat of the corona are key. They both play a role in space weather and solar storms, and understanding the solar wind could enable better prediction of space weather.

Solar wind and the corona's temperature also impact ejections of mass from the corona, which could impact the global power grid and telecommunications on Earth, as well as our astronauts on the International Space Station. The energized and accelerated particles streaming away from the sun in the solar wind are also responsible for the northern and southern lights we see on Earth.

Some of the first results from the probe's early passes around the sun have already proved intriguing.

During its first close encounter with the sun, the Parker Solar Probe essentially kept itself suspended over a hole in the corona for a week, watching solar wind particles streaming along the line of the sun's magnetic field and out into space.

"It's amazing — even at solar minimum conditions, the Sun produces many more tiny energetic particle events than we ever thought," said David McComas, principal investigator for the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun suite, or ISʘIS, at Princeton University in New Jersey, in a statement when the first results released. "These measurements will help us unravel the sources, acceleration and transport of solar energetic particles and ultimately better protect satellites and astronauts in the future."

Over the course of the probe's seven-year mission, its orbit will shrink, bringing it closer and closer to the sun over the course of 21 approaches.

The probe will orbit within 3.9 million miles of the sun's surface in 2024, closer to the star than Mercury. Although that sounds far, researchers equate this to the probe sitting on the four-yard line of a football field and the sun being the end zone.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 701971

Reported Deaths: 13187
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion958051716
Lake51105939
Allen38867670
Hamilton34212404
St. Joseph33638539
Elkhart27021431
Vanderburgh22016393
Tippecanoe21602212
Johnson17408373
Porter17157297
Hendricks16711310
Clark12640190
Madison12287337
Vigo12139244
Monroe11336166
LaPorte10760204
Delaware10288184
Howard9606211
Kosciusko9051113
Hancock7922139
Bartholomew7839153
Warrick7671155
Floyd7533176
Wayne6871198
Grant6755168
Boone6517100
Morgan6362138
Dubois6068117
Marshall5743108
Dearborn566975
Cass5668102
Henry5558100
Noble536983
Jackson491869
Shelby476895
Lawrence4324118
Gibson426889
Harrison426070
Montgomery416286
Clinton415053
DeKalb405483
Huntington376480
Whitley374939
Miami371365
Knox364889
Steuben361357
Putnam351760
Wabash345877
Jasper344846
Adams337652
Ripley333268
Jefferson310779
White307154
Daviess288699
Wells284780
Decatur278592
Fayette276962
Greene269985
Posey268133
Scott259853
Clay252044
LaGrange250970
Randolph234380
Washington230329
Spencer227431
Jennings224447
Fountain207445
Sullivan207342
Starke201152
Owen191456
Fulton190439
Jay185529
Carroll185220
Perry179136
Orange176253
Rush170224
Vermillion165643
Franklin165135
Tipton160843
Parke143716
Blackford132631
Pike130034
Pulaski112945
Newton102834
Brown99340
Crawford96914
Benton95613
Martin82215
Warren78715
Switzerland7698
Union69510
Ohio55511
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1045945

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1214131352
Cuyahoga1060882061
Hamilton778281165
Montgomery49815988
Summit45000907
Lucas39675760
Butler37582568
Stark31296894
Lorain24038472
Warren23805291
Mahoning20777583
Lake19885362
Clermont19387228
Delaware17933130
Licking16066206
Fairfield15618196
Trumbull15500459
Medina14787259
Greene14593236
Clark13542288
Wood12664184
Portage12277194
Allen11281229
Richland11001198
Miami10500212
Muskingum8676127
Wayne8523209
Columbiana8515226
Pickaway8414120
Tuscarawas8347239
Marion8342135
Erie7509153
Ross6687145
Hancock6666123
Geauga6520146
Ashtabula6436164
Scioto6271100
Belmont5578158
Union555147
Lawrence5454102
Jefferson5271147
Huron5265113
Darke5256121
Sandusky5158119
Seneca5084118
Washington5056107
Athens497454
Auglaize473984
Mercer470084
Shelby454689
Knox4363108
Madison420458
Putnam419398
Ashland411586
Fulton406266
Defiance399496
Brown384855
Crawford3848100
Logan371976
Preble369298
Clinton359359
Ottawa354278
Highland345759
Williams321674
Champaign317856
Jackson306151
Guernsey305348
Perry289249
Fayette276748
Morrow274139
Henry262866
Hardin262663
Coshocton257857
Holmes252399
Van Wert238562
Gallia232946
Pike232331
Adams227152
Wyandot225553
Hocking208458
Carroll188547
Paulding168238
Meigs141138
Noble132537
Monroe128741
Morgan106423
Harrison104936
Vinton81314
Unassigned02
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 36°
Angola
Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 32°
Huntington
Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 40°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
43° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 36°
Lima
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 36°
There will be more clouds around than sunshine for most of the day and highs will top out in the upper 40s.
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