Solar 'climate change' could cause rougher space weather

April 2, 2012
The Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare with a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME) on June 7, 2011. The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area of almost half the solar surface. SDO observed the flare's peak at 1:41 AM ET. SDO recorded these images in extreme ultraviolet light that show a very large eruption of cool gas. It is somewhat unique because at many places in the eruption there seems to be even cooler material -- at temperatures less than 80,000 K. When viewed in SOHO_s coronagraphs, the event shows bright plasma and high-energy particles roaring from the Sun. This Earth-directed CME is moving at 1400 km/s according to NASA models. Due to its angle, however, effects on Earth should be fairly small. Nevertheless, it may generate space weather effects such as aurora here on Earth in a few days. Credit: NASA / SDO

( -- Recent research shows that the space age has coincided with a period of unusually high solar activity, called a grand maximum. Isotopes in ice sheets and tree rings tell us that this grand solar maximum is one of 24 during the last 9300 years and suggest the high levels of solar magnetic field seen over the space age will reduce in future. This decline will cause a reduction in sunspot numbers and explosive solar events, but those events that do take place could be more damaging. Graduate student Luke Barnard of the University of Reading presented new results on ‘solar climate change’ in his paper at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

The level of radiation in the space environment is of great interest to scientists and engineers as it poses various threats to man-made systems including damage to electronics on satellites. It can also be a health hazard to astronauts and to a lesser extent the crew of high-altitude aircraft.

The main sources of radiation are galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are a continuous flow of highly energetic particles from outside our solar system and solar energetic particles (SEPs), which are accelerated to high energies in short bursts by explosive events on the sun. The amount of radiation in the near-Earth environment from these two sources is partly controlled in a complicated way by the strength of the Sun's magnetic field.

There are theoretical predictions supported by observational evidence that a decline in the average strength of the Sun's magnetic field would lead to an increase in the amount of GCRs reaching near-Earth space. Furthermore there are predictions that, although a decline in would mean less frequent bursts of SEPs, the bursts that do occur would be larger and more harmful.

Currently spacecraft and aircraft are only designed and operated to offer suitable protection from the levels of radiation that have been observed over the course of the space age. A decline in solar activity would result in increased amounts of radiation in near-Earth space and therefore increased risk of harm to spacecraft and aircraft and the astronauts and aircraft crews that operate them.

By comparing this grand maximum with 24 previous examples, Mr. Barnard predicts that there is an 8% chance that solar activity will fall to the very low levels seen in the so-called ‘Maunder minimum’, a period during the seventeenth century when very few sunspots were seen. In this instance, the flux of GCRs would probably increase by a factor of 2.5 from present day values and the probability of observing a large SEP event will fall from the presently seen 5 down to 2 events per century.

However, the more probable scenario is that solar activity will decline to approximately half its current value in the next 40 years, in which case the flux of GCRs will increase by a factor of 1.5 and the probability of large SEP events to increase from the current value to 8 events per century. As a result the near-Earth space radiation environment will probably become more hazardous in the next 40 years.

In presenting his results, Mr. Barnard comments: “Radiation in space can be a serious issue for both people and the delicate electronic systems that society depends on. Our research shows that this problem is likely to get worse over the coming decades – and that engineers will need to work even harder to mitigate its impact.”

Explore further: Change in solar activity brings increased radiation risk to air passengers

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not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
What sort of protection is afforded to the inhabitants of Rama at L4 by an artificial magnetic field and a few meters of soil in the hull?
2 / 5 (8) Apr 02, 2012
"Recent research shows that the space age has coincided with a period of unusually high solar activity,"

And lucky for us, it caused a small amount of warming in the 20th century. Or else the LIA would still be going strong.

And now that solar maximum is ending .... and we will FREEZE!
2.8 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2012
And now that solar maximum is ending .... and we will FREEZE!

When Arctic permafrost has melted and released all that land locked CO2 and metan-gas, I doubt the result will be a big freeze. Unless of course if "The Day After Tomorrow" like weather distortion will be the result of human forced CO2 increase.
1 / 5 (2) Apr 02, 2012
Interesting stuff, we will need to build more robust satellites if solar magnetism drops off. Also, as NotParker alludes to, the Svensmark theory of GCR climate change predicts that the planet will get colder as solar activity drops off, will be a good test between AGW theory vs. SCIENCE (Svensmarkian Cloud Increase from Extra-Terrestrial Nucleation Catalysis Effect).
not rated yet Apr 09, 2012
AGW vs SCIENCE (sic)

no...just no.

Current theory holds that during minimums, the sun releases less (Non ionizing) EM radiation.

Current theory also holds that man made actions are warming the planet.

Currently scientists believe that if we enter a deep minimum, it will slow down the rate of increase in temps, accompanied by a subsequent spike in temps when we exit the minimum.

If you can only think of things as polar choices, then you really should not involve yourself in scientific conversations.

Scientists strive to understand all variables and will update their theories and models as new information comes in.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 09, 2012
Currently scientists believe that if we enter a deep minimum, it will slow down the rate of increase in temps, accompanied by a subsequent spike in temps when we exit the minimum.

Temps aren't increasing. The minuscule increase from 1980 to 1998 has stopped. Temeprature rose faster 1910 to 1944.

I think there is no man made warming if it is lower than previous natural warming spells.

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