Sun’s Solar Cycle 24 Predicted to be the Lowest Since 1928

What is a solar cycle? Glad you asked. Also known as the solar magnetic activity cycle, it’s a cycle that regulates activities and structures on the Sun. Astronomers measure solar cycles by documenting the number of sunspots on the surface of the Sun. It’s an advanced system. Counting black dots on the Sun. And to make it more exact, the number of sunspots is not constant. They come and go. When they are at their peak, it’s known as the solar maximum; at their low point, it’s the solar minimum. Now even I can understand that type of astronomy.

Solar Maximum & Solar Minimum
Solar Maximum & Solar Minimum

Perhaps the best definition of a solar cycle is the one I found on Wikipedia:

The Sun’s magnetic field structures its atmosphere and outer layers all the way through the corona and into the solar wind. Its spatiotemporal variations lead to a host of phenomena collectively known as solar activity. All of solar activity is strongly modulated by the solar magnetic cycle, since the latter serves as the energy source and dynamical engine for the former.

I hope that was clear. In the end, the solar cycle is an incredibly important piece of our Sun’s ability to provide us with balanced sunlight and energy. In fact, there are some scientists who believe that our health is related to solar and lunar rhythms (the field is called Chronobiology). As crazy as it sounds, it really seems like the solar cycle may have an impact on our health. And there’s even more – the sun cycle may even effect such things as the prices of goods. I think that has something to do with less/more sunlight causing certain things to happen, particularly in agriculture. But I could be wrong. I’m just saying is all.

Trends: Solar Cycle 23 & Solar Cycle 24
Trends: Solar Cycle 23 & Solar Cycle 24

This is the reason I am writing this post. A bunch of really smart solar cycle experts have predicted that Solar Cycle 24 will peak in 2013, but it will be the lowest solar cycle since Solar Cycle 16 peaked in 1928 with 78 sun spots. Sun spots are areas of extreme magnetic activity on the Sun’s surface, and they can sometimes be seen from Earth without the use of a telescope. Sunspots look like dark spots on the Sun’s surface, and there are references to sunspots made by Chinese astronomers in 28 BC. Yep, people have been seeing black spots on the Sun for quite some time now. But why does any of this matter?

Solar cycles are capable of producing severe space weather. On September 1, 1859, a British astronomer named Richard Carrington observed the largest solar flare in solar storm that came to be known as the Solar Superstorm of 1859 or the Carrington Event. The Carrington Event caused fires in telegraph offices after it electrified transmission cables. It also produced extremely bright Northern Lights. So bright, in fact, that gold miners in the Rocky Mountains woke up and began preparing breakfast because they thought it was morning. If a similar storm were to happen today, the National Academy of Science estimates the damages could be in the range of $1-$2 trillion. The storm in 1859 caused outages in telegraph systems for most of America and Europe. You can only imagine what a solar storm of that magnitude would do to our communcations systems today. Let’s just say that your Twitter and Facebook accounts would not be updated for a while.

Solar Cycle History Since 1600
Solar Cycle History Since 1600

The reason that all of this is important today is because the predictions for Solar Cycle 24 (our current solar cycle) are expected to be the lowest since 1928. Both of these solar cycles are on par to be very similar to the solar cycle during the time of the Carrington Event. “Uh oh,” said Doom & Gloom Guy. But don’t worry too much. The Sun is acting very strange right now. No one can seem to figure out if the solar minimum was in 2008 or if it’s occuring right now in 2009. They thought the solar minimum would be over in 2007, but the were wrong. Very wrong. Also, did you notice the time range labeled Maunder Minimum in the graph? That is an unexplainable 70-year span of spotlessness. It confuses scientists and astronomers to this day.

Right now, we are in an extended solar minimum. And that is good because as noted on NASA’s website (here):

Low solar activity has a profound effect on Earth’s atmosphere, allowing it to cool and contract. Space junk accumulates in Earth orbit because there is less aerodynamic drag. The becalmed solar wind whips up fewer magnetic storms around Earth’s poles. Cosmic rays that are normally pushed back by solar wind instead intrude on the near-Earth environment. There are other side-effects, too, that can be studied only so long as the sun remains quiet.

Enjoy it while it lasts. 2013 could be a scorcher.

Aldous Huxley vs. George Orwell

I saw this the other day, and I thought it was very insightful (maybe even inciteful). There’s plenty more posts you can find here, but I wanted to draw your attention to the comparison between Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, and George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four. The title of this animated lesson is Amusing Ourselves to Death, and it was created by Stuart McMillen, May 2009. Here is the content from the picture linked above:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who would want to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.

Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us.
Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.
Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited the Civil Libertarians and Rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.”

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, people are controlled by inflicting pain.
In Brave New World, people are controlled by inflicting pleasure.

In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.
Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

[Note: All words from “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” by Neil Postman…A book about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.]

How about that? I’m not sure if any of this is really what Huxley or Orwell believed or feared, but it sure makes me wonder about our generation – all the information we have at our fingertips, how we are controlled by pleasure, how we are focused on the most irrelevant things, etc…

Just the other day I was wondering about whether or not the internet and all of these cool tech gadgets have made a positive impact on our society as a whole. After arguing with myself for a while, I really think there is a strong debate on both sides. But in the end, I believe many of the advancements in technology have really just created a pervasive loneliness for millions of Americans. Personally, I have enjoyed many high-tech gadjets. I really liked video games when I was a kid. And I freaking loved my Sony Walkman. And I thought my Gateway2000 computer was so cool in 1998. I think if the internet had never come along, I’d be perfectly content with my family, a Sony Walkman and a fishing pole. Family, Music, Outdoors. Those are my favorite things. I dunno. Just something to think about.

CDC Worries H1N1 Swine Flu Will Become A Summer Influenza

According to this article (here):

CDC officials say around 100,000 people are likely infected with the new flu strain in the United States

Wow. That’s shocking. The H1N1 flu virus, also known as the Swine Flu or Pig Flu, has long been forgotten about by most Americans. In fact, I have heard a number of TV anchors and radio personalities making fun of just how overblown the Swine Flu hysteria was. And we’re on to other things now anyways. America is once again talking steroids in sports and the commencement address of President Obama at Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony. In our world of up-to-the-minute coverage of everything, the Swine Flu is yesterday’s news. Or is it?

Don’t look now, but the Swine Flu is back in the news, and the CDC believes there will be a summer influenza. That’s right. Rather than hitting in the normal flu season, a summer flu may strike. And don’t look now part two: the strain is virtually everywhere:

The influenza, officially known as H1N1, sickened at least 125 in Japan as the number of infections worldwide topped 8,800 in 40 countries. Health officials of more than 190 nations began a meeting today of the World Health Assembly in Geneva to debate whether swine flu is spreading widely enough to upgrade the threat to level 6, the highest, and declare it the first pandemic since 1968.

But wait! There’s more bad news, especially if you are younger. The H1N1 flu virus may be a mild in nature, but it is disproportionately affecting children, teenagers and young adults. And even though it’s symptoms are mild for most, it has hospitalized up to 200 of the younger demographic. Some people believe that young people are at higher risk of this flu because they are more social and have more contact with other people. And some believe that many older people have had a similar variant to this strain a long time ago, making them mostly immune to the H1N1 virus.

Well, I’m going to file this post under the Doom & Gloom category. Maybe not. But seriously, I hope that none of you get this flu virus. Drink lots of water and don’t be social, especially with kids.