Things may be about to get very dull on the sun. Three different measurements of solar activity, reported by scientists at a press conference today, suggest that the next 11-year-long solar cycle will be far quieter than the current one. In fact, it may not happen at all: Sunspots, the enormous magnetic storms that erupt on the sun's surface as the cycle builds, might disappear entirely for the first time in approximately 400 years.
The Register explains...
What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.
The Christian Science Monitor expands...A sun with no sun spots? What that could mean for Earth and its climate.
A long quiescent period also could provide an unexpected, natural laboratory for investigating often-discussed but poorly explored links between sunspot activity and global climate.
The most oft-cited example of a shutdown in sun spots is the so-called Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period that began around 1645. Sun spots virtually vanished from the sun's surface. The decline coincided with a climate period known as the Little Ice Age, when temperatures fell substantially in various locations around the globe and different times during the time span.
Researchers have been looking at this correlation with an eye toward figuring out whether and to what extent seemingly small fluctuations in sunlight that come with changes in the sunspot cycle may affect Earth's climate.
Update: ABC post this story written by AFP...(note the slant, they could have asked a real solar physicist)