Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe Maunder Minimum is a long period wherein sunspot occurrence was noticeably very low. Although it is normal to observe the Sun having few sunspots over a certain duration, with some scientists even believing that an 11-year cycle of maximum and minimum solar power outputs exists, the period spanning the Maunder Minimum is at an unusually astounding 70 years, from 1645 to 1715.
The graph above should give you an idea how glaring it is. Although it is not shown in the graph, data gathered by astronomers reveal a 30-year duration within the Maunder Minimum wherein only 50 sunspots were accounted for. Compare that to the usual 40,000 to 50,000 recorded in more recent years.
This extended period of minimal sunspot activity is named after Edward Maunder, an astronomer who in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s studied variations in sunspot latitudes.
One feature of that 70-year sunspot drought might interest climate change advocates. This interval is said to have coincided with the coldest stretch of the Little Ice Age, a period of considerably low temperatures that affected vast parts of Europe and North America. During the Little Ice Age, Greenland was virtually inaccessible between 1410 to 1720 due to enormous structures of ice.
The effects of solar activity, much less the extent of it, to climate change is not well established. However, there are those who suggest we should look at other causes of climate change other than greenhouse gases, and solar activity is one of the alternative candidates.
Galileo is usually credited when it comes to the discovery of sunspots. However, it is Heinrich Schwabe who first noticed the cyclical rise and fall of their numbers. His findings were released in an articled entitled “Solar Observations in 1843″. In that paper, he suggested a 10-year cycle, close enough to the currently accepted 11-years.
While it is definitely too early to tell whether we’re about to go into an extended time of sunspot inactivity again, the sun is currently staying at a minimum a little longer than expected. After the anticipated minimum between 2007-2008, solar activity is already supposed to be on its way up but that doesn’t seem to be happening. According to Mike Lockwood, a solar physicist from Southampton University, the Sun is currently “bumping along the bottom”.
Since the next maximum is still estimated to be at 2013, there’s absolutely no cause for alarm. If no substantial change occurs in the next couple of years, then perhaps that’s the time when we should start worrying.
We have some articles in Universe Today that are related to the Maunder Minimum. Here are two of them:
Articles related to the Maundy Minimum brought to you by NASA and Physics World, here are the links:
Tired eyes? Let your ears help you learn for a change. Here are some episodes from Astronomy Cast that just might suit your taste: