Maybe the solar warming skeptics are on to something. As you probably know, we are in a very deep solar minimum, with over 700 days with absolutely no sunspot activity since 2004. In fact, some scientists are beginning to speculate that sunspots may be gone for good:
“Sunspot magnetic fields are dropping by about 50 gauss per year,” says Penn. “If we extrapolate this trend into the future, sunspots could completely vanish around the year 2015.”
This disappearing act is possible because sunspots are made of magnetism. The “firmament” of a sunspot is not matter but rather a strong magnetic field that appears dark because it blocks the upflow of heat from the sun’s interior. If Earth lost its magnetic field, the solid planet would remain intact, but if a sunspot loses its magnetism, it ceases to exist.
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Between 1645 and 1715 or so, another spotless period later became known as the “Maunder Minimum,” and happened to coincide with the beginning of the “little ice age” that spread through Europe causing bitterly cold winters. However, the cold spell lasted well beyond the end of the Solar Minimum period, leading many scientists to dispute the correlation.
Much of the panic over 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar also relates to the idea that this will be the year of the peak solar maximum. If the solar cycle behaved as it was supposed to, we would be peaking during the period from 2011 to 2012. Some scientists are predicting an even stronger peak because of the minimum.
The fact is, no one knows. And isn’t that one of the exciting mysteries of life!