Good bye sunshine

I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I’ve got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I’m in love and it’s a sunny day
Good day sunshine… — Good day sunshine, The Beatles

solar-flareAs if it isn’t enough that oil is flooding the Gulf of Mexico and volcanoes are erupting in Iceland, it now appears that the sun is on the fritz. Yes, the sun. Which begs the question, if the sun blinks out and Earth turns to a ball of ice, will Democrats blame George W Bush?

Before you grab those survival biscuits and head for the basement, let me assure you that the sun is not quitting anytime soon. It’s just developed a glitch, kind of a rebooting problem, like the solar equivalent of Microsoft’s blue screen of death.

Unfortunately, we’re way, way, way beyond warranty coverage here.

Here’s the deal. Every 11 years, the sun takes a nap. This is known as the “solar minimum.” Sun spot activity and solar storms quiet down significantly during this period. After a year of quiescence, sun spots and solar storms crank up again and everything goes back to normal.

During these quiet times, the sun produces a little less solar radiation, which makes the earth a bit cooler. During one very long and quiet period known as the Maunder minimum (1645-1715), Europe actually experienced a mini-ice age.

In this most recent cycle, the sun went to sleep in 2007 and should have started waking up again in 2008.

[C]omputer models predicted that when the spots did return, they would do so in force. … The first sign that the prediction was wrong came when 2008 turned out to be even calmer than expected. That year, the sun was spot-free 73 per cent of the time, an extreme dip even for a solar minimum. Only the minimum of 1913 was more pronounced, with 85 per cent of that year clear. … As 2009 arrived, solar physicists looked for some action. They didn’t get it. The sun continued to languish until mid-December, when the largest group of sunspots to emerge for several years appeared. Finally, a return to normal? Not really.

Even with the solar cycle finally under way again, the number of sunspots has so far been well below expectations. Something appears to have changed inside the sun, something the models did not predict. —What’s wrong with the sun?, The New Scientist, 14 June 2010

As if that news isn’t bad enough, it also appears that the sun is shrinking. Carl Sagan once said, “We live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe.” Now, change that word “humdrum” to “puny” and you can imagine the global inferiority complex that might set in!

Given all this cheery news, you may want to book that trip to the south of France sooner rather than later.

What’s really happening, of course, is that the sun is behaving differently than the computer models would predict. Which means, established theories about the mechanisms that power our sun may need revising. Which means, things we were certain were true in 2007 may be questionable just 3 years later. We’re always learning how little we really know about creation.

All this reminds me that I rarely thank God for the sun. Maybe this would be a good time to start?

It is the LORD who provides the sun to light the day and the moon and stars to light the night… — Jeremiah 31:35, NLT

Image credit: NASA, Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

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  1. Are these scary times, or are the media just working over time?

  2. Fascinating! I’ve been reading and rereading Revelation these past few weeks, and it’s easier and easier for me to imagine how some of the events described might take place… We’re a pretty fragile planet.