April 13, 2018 M: Minimum

April 13, 2018 M: Minimum (No sunspots on the sun and its effect on the weather)

A minimum I’ll discuss here is a minimum in the sunspot cycle. All stars are somewhat variable. And so is our sun. It heats up and cools on an average of every eleven years.

Since astronomy students used to be all male, they categorized stars by how hot they were. To remember the star types they memorized the phrase: Oh, Be A Fine Girl. Kiss Me.  (The star types based on size and temperature: O, B. A, F, G, K, M). Today we’re excited about the smaller stars that are longer lived because they burn at lower temperatures. The sun is a G type star whose lifespan is about 10 billion years. We’ve already said that it’s taken 4.6 billion years (of the sun’s life) for the human race to evolve. So if life only evolves on planets around G type stars like the sun then threats to evolving life (like the variation of output of the sun’s energy) might be extremely important because of the changes that might occur in the second half of the star’s life.

The sun like almost all stars varies in its output and can be categorized as a variable star. When the sun is hot, it boils with rotating storms called sunspots. When it cools down, it is devoid of spots (called the solar minimum). The sunspot cycles average 11 years (every 9 to 12 years the poles switch north to south, south to north). Presently we’re going through a solar minimum (a minimum in the number of sunspots).

Because the sun varies in its heat output, that may create crises for life on it. Though we think we know the sun’s cycle (hot to cold to hot) because we can count the spots on the sun, there is lots we don’t know. About 400 years ago there occurred a Grand Minimum called The Maunder Minimum that lasted from about 1650 to 1715.

Just as an aside: Leibniz, who developed the method of calculus by which physicists and engineers map the behavior of the universe today, lived in Europe during The Maunder Minimum (very few or no spots on the sun while he was alive during his 75 years). The General Energy Equation that I used in my research is based on the symbolism and functioning of his mathematics (calculus). There are data showing that colder climates allow better mental functioning. And, so, studying the cooler cycle of the sun might contribute to human evolution in that it might allow humans to first invent clothing and then to more easily develop their technological culture.

During The Maunder Minimum many waterways in Europe froze over, so the time period on Earth was called The Little Ice Age. A real ice age happens every 100,000 years and we’re just coming out of one (The latest ice age happened about 20,000 years ago). A real ice age (where the whole Earth falls into a winter-like deep-freeze) seems to only occur when our orbit is eccentric (elliptical) and our axis is precessed away from the sun at a greater distance. A solar minimum during that time might have started the freeze. (Kepler would have said that besides Earth being farther from the sun when its orbit is an ellipse, that the winter part of the orbit would last longer–thus the freeze.)

Today, we’re concerned with the Earth getting hotter and how human industry may be at fault. Today we’re in a solar minimum (no substantial sunspots), but our orbit is circular (eccentricity approximately zero). That means approximately the same amount of heat from the sun (insolation) in the summer and winter. But we are going into a warming trend which usually means a great deal of carbon dioxide is released from the once frozen ocean. That causes the Earth’s atmosphere to heat up even more. 

During a minimum, the solar wind tends to be smaller and so it does not anymore protect us from incoming cosmic rays. It has been theorized that more rain clouds nucleate on these small energetic particles along with the storm tracks sinking lower across the United States and, therefore, more tornadoes, and perhaps other more intense storms (hurricanes?) initiate. 

Because so little is known about sun cycles, NASA is sending probes to the sun to bring back more information about our star and its cycling. Only then will we know for sure if Earth’s human industry is creating all that carbon dioxide and heat, or if it’s just our quirky sun.

With all the talk about ways of sequestering carbon dioxide to keep our climate cool, scientists may have overlooked the biological solution. If over fifty percent of the biomass of life (perhaps the more primitive organisms that inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen) go through very long cycles, then, like they first sequestered carbon dioxide to produce our oxygen atmosphere, they may regularly sequester our atmospheric carbon dioxide every hundred thousand years to get us into our ice ages. Couldn’t they react to sunspot maxima, the raising of heat, and the increase in carbon dioxide? Why wouldn’t one-celled organisms that are in spore form wait for a time when carbon dioxide is more available in our atmosphere?

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