What is Going on With Our Sun?
Are Hysterical Claims Really True?
by Michael Theroux (1999)
“Not since _______, have such violent outbreaks been seen
on the surface of the sun as have been reported this year.”
The quote is from Harlan True Stetson, the date in the blank is August 1917, and the year Stetson wrote this was 1937. It sounds like it could have been written today. I’m a little dismayed at the hysteria being generated by the media about our current solar condition. We seem to be witnessing “grasping at straws” attempts to point the finger at anything suspect of causing total chaos as we approach the new millennium. At first it was Y2k that was supposed to end the world as we know it, and as that died out due to challenges and rational thought from real computer experts and industrialists (note: the computer industry is preparing for sales in the year 2000 — not the end of the world), now the Sun is the most recent victim to blame for our upcoming Armageddon. Mind you, most of these claims are coming from the alternative media, who again treasure alternative media sources for their documentation and confirmation. These media types do not consult scientists who are respected in the fields in which they work, rather they consult with so-called alternative spokespersons, prophets, and pseudoscientists (yes, I said that dreaded word) who profess “radical changes are a coming” and “head for the hills” mentality.
A classic example of this kind of behavior was presented last year. We received several faxes from a couple of groups who had claimed that there was an extraordinary seismic event that occurred and had lasted for hours. They suggested that it had originated from deep inside the earth, and was unprecedented in that it was not felt by anyone. They had also suggested that it was probably a precursor to other potentially devastating seismic events. I perused the seismic databases in search of this anomaly and found nothing, so I asked the group if they could provide any data on the event. I received another fax with several seismograms from the internet’s Live Seismic Server which appeared to detail this event with a statement from the group that the USGS was silent on the event — that they may be involved in a coverup. After a quick glance at the seismograms it was easy to correlate the data exactly with a known event that had occurred on the day in question, and that their speculation on the duration of the event had stemmed from their inability to properly interpret the seismograms! Needless to say, after I replied to the group with the correct analysis, it was never mentioned again.
Of course, the USGS was not involved in any coverup — they simply had no idea what these groups were talking about and chalked it up to more lunatic hysteria — as do many mainstream scientists when confronted with such data. I can hardly blame them for their reactions as this is becoming more commonplace as the millennium approaches. Many in the scientific community are being bombarded with allegations of covering up data and research even when they try to present their findings openly. In order for the alternative science community to properly liaison with mainstream science this will have to cease. It is our hope that these attacks do not encourage elements of quantitative science to withhold rather than reveal.
So then, what is really happening with our Sun? Is there something unusual and extraordinary about the recent rise in sunspot numbers? Are communications satellites, automobiles, computers, powerplants, etc. going to be rendered useless? Is the sun going to explode soon or lash out with a gigantic fireball to consume the earth and her inhabitants? It’s always a possibility, but I don’t think so. There are some things that solar activity might be responsible for, but we’ll check into that a little later. First, let’s look at some graphical comparisons of sunspot activity through recent history. It has been stated by some media personalities that the recent rise in sunspot numbers may be the highest ever recorded — that the jump to over 300 (or 340) is simply unexampled. [note: “Sunspot Number” is comprised of a daily index of SUNSPOT activity (R), defined as R = k (10 g + s) where S = number of individual spots, g = number of sunspot groups, and k is a variable scaling factor (usually <1) that indicates the combined effects of observing conditions, telescope, and bias of the solar observers See: http://spaceweather.com/java/archive.html#sunspotnum]
Rather than post all the graphs, here are some links to historical solar and geomagnetic data charts from 1956-1991 which show that unsmoothed sunspot numbers have indeed reached such levels and higher:
Or for the really enterprising see this historical database of daily numbers from 1818 to present (appears to be incomplete): http://www.oma.be/KSB-ORB/SIDC/DATA/dayssn.dat
During solar maximum there are many sunspots, and during solar minimum there are few. The plot linked below shows the number of smoothed sunspots observed from the year 1749 through the present: http://www.sunspotcycle.com/images/zurich.gif
Now here is a graphical comparison of solar cycles 21, 22 and our current Cycle 23:
|And, here is a graphical comparison of solar cycles 10, 13, 17, 20 and the current Cycle 23 (using the international monthly smoothed sunspot number):|
While Cycle 23 (our present cycle) has been predicted to be slightly above average (See: Cycle 23 will be above average but no record setter) Dr. David Hathaway of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center said, “It’s like saying we’re going to have a mild or cold winter,”
It is now quite probable that the Earth’s climate may be linked to sunspots. The “Little Ice Age” corresponded with a 70-year period, 1645-1715, when sunspots were thin in number, the Maunder minimum. Also, there are strong statistical associations linking current trends in climate (surface temperatures) to trends in solar activity (See these two excellent papers by Dr. Theodor Landscheidt from the Schroeter Institute for Research in Cycles of Solar Activity, Nova Scotia, Canada entitled, SOLAR ACTIVITY: A DOMINANT FACTOR IN CLIMATE DYNAMICS , and Solar Activity Controls El Niño and La Niña ).
Now that we have fairly determined that Cycle 23 is not really any different than previous cycles, what is it that the sun will affect, and what is it that we should really concern ourselves with?