It’s not well understood how the Sun affects the Earth.
We count the number of sun spots, measure the sun’s irradiance and the size of solar storms.
We do know that the size of solar storms has been linked to auroras and damage to electrical systems.
The largest known geomagnetic storm occurred in1859. Known as the Carrington Event, the storm was nearly three times as intense as the most recent severe geomagnetic storm.
The Carrington storm took 17 hours, 40 minutes to reach the Earth, and it produced auroras seen around the world. It also damaged telegraph stations in the United States and England.
A geomagnetic storm in 1989 caused the grid in Quebec, Canada to fail.
There is also a high degree of certainty that the number of sun spots affects the climate, though the exact mechanism is still a matter of scientific study.
There was a period, known as the Maunder Minimum, when there were virtually no sun spots. For over a hundred years temperatures on Earth were very low, resulting in the Little Ice Age.
Sun spots occur in an eleven-year cycle, and the most recent cycle, #24, has been the weakest of the recent past.
There’s been considerable speculation about the next sun spot cycle. Will Cycle 25 have even fewer sunspots? And does this indicate a new minimum that may affect the Earth’s climate?
On July 18, the LA Times headline read, “Suddenly, the sun is eerily quiet: Where did the sunspots go?”
The Times was not alone.
The Daily Mail, “Why has the sun gone quiet? Scientists baffled as sun spots disappear during peak period of solar activity.”
And the Register, “The Sun took a day off last week and made NO SUNSPOTS.”
While these headlines have no real scientific meaning, they highlight that there is much we don’t know about the sun.
Headlines about our weather, such as the Polar Vortex, also have no scientific meaning, but highlight there is much we don’t know about the climate.
Herschel’s linking the price of wheat to the sun, the Carrington Event and other interesting events of modern history, are vividly described in the book: The Sun Kings,The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington & the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began, by Stuart Clark.
How the sun affects the Earth is an important question.
A Carrington Event could, for example, shut down the grid in North America for months, and possibly for over a year. People living in cities, such as New York and Chicago, as well as the other 200 million people living across the northern United States and southern Canada would be without electricity. Could our society survive?
And would another solar minimum cause another Little Ice Age? Is the sun the real source of climate change?
Svensmark, a Danish scientist, has developed an hypothesis that explains how solar storms could affect the Earth’s climate.
Most people see the sun without really seeing it, and take it for granted.
Isn’t it time to take the sun more seriously?
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