The Sun Is Getting Quieter, Prompting Scientists To Worry About The Future Of The Earth

If a deep solar minimum is on the horizon, this could mean that over the next two years, the sun will send a wave of particles our way. This shower of particles can affect our atmosphere, our communications systems, power grids, and satellites.

If satellites struggle to function, that means we could lose internet service, GPS navigation, satellite TV and our cell phone signals.

Here’s what you need to know.

Professor Yvonne Elsworth, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham, led the latest study on the sun’s activity.

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Her team used sound waves to examine the sun. They found that the layer where the highest amount of magnetic activity is located has become thinner and weaker recently.

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Professor Elsworth explained: “The sun is very much like a musical instrument except that its typical notes are at a very low frequency […] Studying these sound waves, using a technique called helioseismology, enables us to find out what’s going on throughout the sun’s interior.”

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The recent drop in the sounds of the sun has prompted Elsworth and her team to believe that we are currently heading towards this period of “deep solar minimum.”

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NASA supported the observations made by Elsworth’s team, saying that we can expect to reach that deep solar minimum by 2019-2020.

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This is part of the sun’s natural cycle, which occurs every 10-11 years. NASA believes that the solar minimum could also change space weather and even cause space junk to “hang around.”

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The cosmic ray activity resulting from a solar minimum could also affect our atmosphere in unexpected ways. If the Earth’s magnetic field is increased, it could lead to a surge of electricity in power lines.

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This surge of electricity, in turn, can blow out electrical transformers and power stations, leading to the loss of electricity in entire regions at a time.

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On top of that, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has also backed up Professor Elsworth’s claim that the sun is currently undergoing changes.

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NASA’s daily snaps show that the sun has been spotless for at least 44 days. Low sunspots are one of the typical signs of a deep solar minimum.

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This doesn’t mean that the activity on the sun’s surface ceases completely. During a solar minimum, some other types of activity emerge. They even last longer than usual.

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“During solar minimum, we can see the development of long-lived coronal holes,” says Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

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During a solar minimum, coronal holes can last “up to six months or more” according to Pesnell. Coronal holes are the areas where the magnetic field opens up, sending those waves of solar particles into space.

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These are the particles that hit the earth’s magnetic field, creating the disruptions to satellites and communications.

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On top of that, Professor Elsworth’s observations also point out to some other unusual changes in the sun. She declared that the rotation of the sun “has slowed a bit at latitudes around about 60 degrees.”

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“We are not quite sure what the consequences of this will be but it’s clear that we are in unusual times,” she added in her report to the scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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