The NASA website says: "Imagine you're in California. It's July, the middle of summer. The sun rises early; bright rays warm the ground. It's a great day to be outside. Then, suddenly, it begins to snow--not just a little flurry, but a swirling blizzard that doesn't stop for two weeks." According to solar physicist David Hathaway, "Something like that just happened on the sun." Was this predicted by a mysterious crop circle?
A crop circle laid down in 1995 displayed the positions of the planets as they would be on September 6, 2003. As a result, crop circle watchers waited eagerly for that date,which apparently came and went without incident.
But now we've learned that a blast of active particles from an explosion on a distant star moved through our solar system at about that time. Subsequently, the sun has entered the most unusual period of activity ever recorded, with by far the largest solar flare ever seen, and almost continuous bombardment of earth with various types of solar radiation. Could this be a contributing factor?
To see a photo of the September 6th crop circle formation, click here.
"Mild is just what we expect at this point in the 11-year solar cycle," says Hathaway. "The most recent maximum was in 2001, and solar activity has been declining ever since." But in October, strange things began happening. Three giant sunspots appeared, each larger than the planet Jupiter. One of them, sunspot 486, was the largest in 13 years. Astronauts and some people in airplanes received radiation doses equal to a chest x-ray.
The European Union's Beagle spacecraft, which is scheduled to land on Mars on Christmas day, had its navigational equipment temporarily knocked out. Fortunately, the Beagle 2 lander was unaffected. Mark Sims, at ESA's mission control, says, "The Beagle 2 is designed to be radiation hard." Two years after a solar maximum, why is the sun goinghaywire? Hathway says that, despite appearances, we're still headed for a solar minimum, as part of the normal sun cycle. "There's a curious tendency for the biggest flares to occur after solar maximum?on the downslope toward solar minimum. This has happened during two of the last three solar cycles," he says.
But he admits that, "It's hard to be sure what's normal and what's not. Astronomers have been observing x-rays from the sun for only 35 years?or three solar cycles. We can't draw good statistical conclusions from so few data."
The most recent sunspots, including 486, are now on the far side of the sun, facing away from us, so they're no longer affecting us, but Hathaway says, "We suspect they're still active."
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