The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees...
We need its light
We need its heat
We need its energy
Without the sun, without a doubt
There'd be no you and me
The sun is not cooperating. We like to think we're starting to understand it, and then it goes and has a hissy fit...won't come out of its room, so to speak. Sun spots have refused to show up recently, and now we detect a massive reduction in solar wind. Per Popular Mechanics:
The solar wind was 20 to 25 percent weaker than during the last minimum, NASA and ESA announced at a press conference on Tuesday, and the weakest since they began measuring it at the dawn of the space age a half-century ago.
This animation shows sun cycles over an eleven year period, the normal length of a cycle of solar activity:
In comments to my Is it getting warm in here? post, we've had some discussion of whether solar activity might be a cause of global warming, and in particular whether the absent sun spots might result in cooling. Per that Popular Mechanics article:
One possible outgrowth of a prolonged weakened solar wind could have to do with climate change. Experts agree that solar cycles can have an effect on the Earth's climate. But they don't agree on much more than that, according to Boston University astrophysicist Nancy Crooker. "Models are so rudimentary that we can't even predict how much effect the sun can have," she told PM.
A reasonable statement for a scientist to make...while I have no clue either, obviously (astrophysicist being yet another thing I am not), it does make me wonder how people like Biden, also a noted non-astrophysicist, can say:
"We know what the cause is. The cause is man-made. That's the cause. That's why the polar icecap is melting."
Whatever contribution man makes to global warming, it seems we probably can't rule out the sun as a possible source of warmth on this planet. And if we have no models to predict the sun's effect...well, I won't spell it out even further. You get the point.
More from that article:
For this type of sun shift to have a direct impact on global warming, Crooker insistes, the first star would have to go through a more substantial change than the standard 11-year cycle of minimums and maximums. "Eleven years is not enough time for the climate to respond to anything solar," she said. In the late 17th century, for example, the sun entered a much longer, sustained low, and at the same time the Earth suffered through a moderate cooling.
So what matters for climate, Crooker said, is whether this downturn in the solar wind's strength becomes a long-term downturn in the sun's radiation. There's some evidence that the sun undergoes a 100-year cycle in the intensity of its sunspots during solar maximum, and that we're currently nearing the bottom of that cycle. But the pattern is weak, she said, and therefore it's a stretch to claim that the sun is currently counteracting global warming with global cooling, though it is possible. "We can't discount it," she said.
But believe it or not, I didn't intend for this post to focus on global warming...even more interesting is the known effect of the current lack of solar wind: Making it harder for people with too much money to fly into space:
The most realistic effect of a reduced solar wind is that it could threaten the lives of astronauts. Flying around outer space is a dangerous proposition at any time, and not just because of the lack of oxygen or the incredible distances. Cosmic rays, energetic particles mostly including protons, helium nuclei and electrons, come from both the sun and from other sources and fly all over the place. And they are dangerous to our health: Like other ionizing radiation, they can damage DNA and cause diseases such as cancer and cataracts. The Earth's magnetosphere shields orbiting shuttles and space stations from this radiation, but anybody trekking to the moon or Mars had better watch out. The current finding of an especially weak solar wind means that "this is not a good time to be traveling in space," says Crooker.
Solar wind usually creates a bubble around our solar system called the heliosphere, which keeps out most cosmic rays from the rest of the galaxy. But a weak solar wind means a weak heliosphere, and more cosmic rays crossing through our area. "The smaller the heliosphere gets, the less shielding we get," said Dave McCombs of the Southwest Research Institute.
I hope you hadn't already booked your flight on Virgin Galactic:
All of this talk of heliospheres and cosmic rays is but an excuse, of course, to get to the song you've all been waiting for...