Scientists warn that the sun will 'go to sleep' in 2030. Is a mini ICE AGE really on the way?

The Earth could be headed for a 'mini ice age' researchers have warned. A new study claims to have cracked predicting solar cycles - and says that between 2020 and 2030 solar cycles will cancel each other out.

This pictures shows variation in solar activity during a sunspot cycle
This pictures shows variation in solar activity during a sunspot cycle

Around 500 astronomers and space scientists gathered at Venue Cymru in Llandudno, Wales, from 5-9 July, for the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting 2015 (NAM2015, Cyfarfod Seryddiaeth Cenedlaethol 2015). The conference is the largest regular professional astronomy event in the UK and saw leading researchers from around the world presenting the latest work in a variety of fields

This, they say, will lead to a phenomenon known as the 'Maunder minimum' - which has previously been known as a mini ice age when it hit between 1646 and 1715, even causing London's River Thames to freeze over.

The new model of the Sun's solar cycle is producing unprecedentedly accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun's 11-year heartbeat. It draws on dynamo effects in two layers of the Sun, one close to the surface and one deep within its convection zone.

Science writer and editor Kulvinder Singh Chadha presents his fourth and final report from the last day of the event: The two-hearted Sun beckons new ‘mini ice-age’

Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the 'mini ice age' that began in 1645, according to the results presented by Prof Valentina Zharkova at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno.

The model predicts that the pair of waves become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022.

During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030-2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch and this will cause a significant reduction in solar activity.

The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) is the name used for the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.

It caused London's River Thames to freeze over, and 'frost fairs' became popular.
This period of solar inactivity also corresponds to a climatic period called the 'Little Ice Age' when rivers that are normally ice-free froze and snow fields remained year-round at lower altitudes.
There is evidence that the Sun has had similar periods of inactivity in the more distant past, Nasa says.

The connection between solar activity and terrestrial climate is an area of on-going research.
Some scientists hypothesize that the dense wood used in Stradivarius instruments was caused by slow tree growth during the cooler period.

Instrument maker Antonio Stradivari was born a year before the start of the Maunder Minimum.
It is 172 years since a scientist first spotted that the Sun's activity varies over a cycle lasting around 10 to 12 years.  But every cycle is a little different and none of the models of causes to date have fully explained fluctuations.

Our Sun has an approximately 11-year activity cycle. During peak periods, it exhibits lots of solar flares and sunspots. Magnetic bubbles of charged particles (coronal mass ejections) may burst from the surface during this period, streaming material into space. These ejections can affect satellites and powerlines on Earth. During lull periods, such activity may almost stop altogether.

But the 11-year cycle isn’t quite able to predict all of the Sun’s behaviour — which can seem erratic at times. Zharkova and her colleagues (Professor Simon Shepherd of Bradford University, Dr Helen Popova of Lomonosov Moscow State University, and Dr Sergei Zarkhov of Hull University) have found a way to account for the discrepancies: a ‘double dynamo’ system.

Zharkova and her colleagues derived their model using a technique called 'principal component analysis' of the magnetic field observations from the Wilcox Solar Observatory in California.
They examined three solar cycles-worth of magnetic field activity, covering the period from 1976-2008.

In addition, they compared their predictions to average sunspot numbers, another strong marker of solar activity.

All the predictions and observations were closely matched.

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Scientists warn that the sun will 'go to sleep' in 2030. Is a mini ICE AGE really on the way? Scientists warn that the sun will 'go to sleep' in 2030. Is a mini ICE AGE really on the way? Reviewed by TrendSpot on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 Rating: 5

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