The sun is heading towards another minimum in the 11-year sunspot cycle, say NASA scientists, expected in 2019-2020. During solar minimum, intense activity – such as sunspots and solar flares – subsides, and the suns’s activity changes form. This new NASA ScienceCast video will give you some basic facts about solar minimums, and what to expect with the one that’s coming.
For example, during solar minimum, the sun can develop long-lived coronal holes, like the one on the sun now.
And, during solar minimum, the effects of Earth’s upper atmosphere on satellites in low-Earth orbit changes. Plus, there are unique space weather effects that get stronger during solar minimum. All in all, the sun-Earth relationship – which is constantly in flux – has its own unique aspects during a solar minimum.
By the way – although we’re not wanting to jump on the “fake news” finger-pointing bandwagon – we did see a story this week whose headline and early paragraphs struck us as a bit over-the-top in suggesting “the sun might soon batter us with a shower of deep space rays so intense, it could cause part of our atmosphere to collapse.” You find out later in the story that the part that’s collapsing is Earth’s thermosphere, which begins at a height of about 53 miles (85 km) above Earth’s surface. As you can see in the NASA ScienceCast above, the collapse of the thermosphere is a normal and ordinary part of the 11-year sunspot cycle.
It’s also true that the last solar maximum was unusual, in that it produced fewer visible sunspots than previous solar maximums. But, remember, this is nature. Nature is variable. Having fewer sunspots at a solar maximum is like having a spring with fewer wildflowers.
Nothing scary here, folks. Just the sun and Earth, doing their magnificent wild thang!
Bottom line: NASA video with basic facts on the upcoming solar minimum.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.