Out, Damn’d Spot, Out I Say!
|by Roberto Rivera|
As Dave the Swede (not his real name) has told you, I'm fascinated by sun spots -- or more precisely, the lack of them.
Apparently, I'm not the only person so fascinated.The sun's recent quiescence prompted NASA to hold a press conference on the state of the sun and the lack of sunspots in what is called Solar Cycle 24.
At the conference, Dr. Nancy Crooker of Boston University cited the emergence of what is designated sunspot 1002 as evidence that a "Maunder Minimum is not likely.”
Only two small problems: one, number 1002 is apparently kaput. Like its Cycle 24 brethren, it was small and very short-lived.
Two, Maunder Minimum! Did she say "Maunder Minimum?" Did she say that that feeble little sunspot was the only assurance we have that we're not entering another Maunder Minimum? If that's true, we are so hosed! I mean the kind of hosed that will make us look back on the Wall Street financial crisis as the "good old days."
That's because the Maunder Minimum is associated with the coldest part of what is called the "Little Ice Age." Here's a sample from Wikipedia of what the "The Little Ice Age" was like:
In the mid-17th century, glaciers in the Swiss Alps advanced, gradually engulfing farms and crushing entire villages. The River Thames and the canals and rivers of the Netherlands often froze over during the winter, and people skated and even held frost fairs on the ice . . . In 1658, a Swedish army marched across the Great Belt to Denmark to invade Copenhagen. The winter of 1794/1795 was particularly harsh when the French invasion army under Pichegru could march on the frozen rivers of the Netherlands, whilst the Dutch fleet was fixed in the ice in Den Helder harbour. In the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. Sea ice surrounding Iceland extended for miles in every direction, closing that island's harbors to shipping.
Mind you, the events from the latter part of the 18th century took place during what is called the Dalton Minimum, a period of somewhat more intense ("intense" being a relative term) solar activity than the Maunder Minimum. But it was still bad enough to be credited with helping to defeat Napoleon's Army in Russia.
The other night, I watched an episode of the Science Channel's Project Earth series about a "crazy experiment" to combat global warming by surrounding the earth with a bunch of mirrors on satellites. Dave the Swede (not his real name) wasn't around so I had to chortle alone. Given the capacity for human folly, these guys might succeed just enough to tip the plant into a big ice age -- who knows, maybe even a Snowball Earth.
At least there's a bunch of worthless paper we can burn to stay warm.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)