…rather than a hot one – For the past two years, the sun has undergone a phase of relative inactivity, meaning usual solar phenomena such as sun flares, sun spots, and solar eruptions have all but disappeared. “It’s a dead face,” researcher Saku Tsuneta says of the solar surface.

Tsuneta is with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and was one of the participants at the MSU conferenceThe good news is that without such intense solar activity disruptions to space technology and even our beloved gadgets here on earth have been minimal. While this provides some relief to those of us whose cell phones dropped calls at the tiniest solar flare, scientists are concerned that this means bigger things to come for Earth’s climate.

Dana Longcope, a solar physicist at MSU, explains that the sun generally runs on an 11-year cycle and that there is usually a minimum of activity as the cycles change. The last cycle peak was in 2001 and the next cycle is predicted to peak around 2012. The sun is now as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren’t sure why. Some have even suggested that the inactivity portents the beginning of a new ice age.

Geophysicist Phil Chapman, the first Australian NASA astronaut, confirms that there are indeed no sun spots currently on the solar surface. He also notes that the earth has cooled by about 0.7 degrees Celsius between January 2007 and January 2008, and says, “This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record, and it puts us back to where we were in 1930.”

Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow at the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, is also certain that it’s an indication of a coming cooling period. He warns that climate change caused by man is “a drop in the bucket” compared to the fierce cold that can inactive solar phases can bring.

In fact, 350 years ago, the sun experienced its longest recorded period of inactivity lasting over 50 years. During the same period, approximately 1650-1700, the earth experienced a “mini” ice age. Some scientists maintain that this was only a coincidence, but others are not as sure.

Dr. Sorokhtin’s advice: “Stock up on fur coats.”

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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