Yes, our Sun has entered a so-called solar minimum, but by no means does that mean we’ll freeze, or climate on Earth will go berserk. Although many news tabloids have reported—sensationally—that the Sun has entered a critical phase, there’s probably nothing you’ll notice different about the Sun.
Although many news outlets have sensationally reported about the Sun entering a solar minimum, and some even suggesting that it means bad news for Earth, fear not, there’s no need to worry. Some news outlets like this one, suggest that certain models of our Sun’s magnetic fled hint at the arrival of “freezing times” and how the Thames River in London could even “freeze” within two decades.
Luckily NASA has done more science and explained what is really going on, and no, a mini ice age is not upon us. At least not yet.
NASA wanted to clarify that there is no imminent “ice age” or “mini ice age” caused by an expected reduction in the Sun’s energy production in the coming decades. Throughout its lifetime, the Sun naturally undergoes changes in energy production. Some of these occur during a normal 11-year peak period (many sunspots) and low activity (fewer sunspots), which are quite predictable.
But every now and then, the Sun becomes quieter, experiences far fewer sunspots, and emits less energy. This is called a “Great Solar Minimum,” and the last time this happened, it coincided with a period called the “Little Ice Age”: a period of deficient solar activity from about 1650 to 1715 in the northern hemisphere, when a combination cooling of volcanic aerosols and low solar activity produced lower surface temperatures.
Right now, we’re in solar cycle 24. and although we can’t precisely pinpoint when the next solar minimum will take place, we can roughly predict it. In 2017, NASA explained that the next solar minimum was expected in 2019-2020.
What experts say
Some scientists have suggested that the relatively small magnitude of the last solar cycle heralds a new Great Solar Minimum in the coming decades. Regarding its effect in terms of climate forcing, a factor that could push climate in a particular direction, solar scientists estimate it would be approximately -0.1 W / m2, the same impact of roughly three years of current carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration growth.
Therefore, a new Great Solar Minimum would only serve to offset a few years of warming caused by human activities. What does this essentially mean? The warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human burning of fossil fuels is six times greater than the possible decades-long cooling of a prolonged solar minimum. Even if a Great Solar Minimum lasted a century, global temperatures would continue to heat up. Because more factors than just variations in the Sun’s production change global temperatures on Earth, the most dominant of those today is warming from human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, NASA explains in the blog.
So, in other words, we don’t need to stack up on more toilet paper, and the Sun will recover as it always does, shining brightly in the sky, proving just enough energy for us not even to notice that it entered a solar minimum.
Five things you should know about the Solar Minimum
Although a Solar Minimum could sound frightening, especially when the news is presented in a sensational way, the truth is that solar cycles are barely noticeable on Earth. Solar minimums aren’t something out of the ordinary, and you may even have survived one without even noticing it.
Just because our Sun might be entering a solar minimum, it doesn’t mean that an apocalyptic freezing scenario is upon us. It just means that the Sun is going through her usual cycle.
A solar minimum is defined as the period of least solar activity during a solar cycle which lasts eleven years. This means that during this period, we can see reduced sunspots and reduced solar flares.
Just as there is a solar minimum, there’s a solar maximum. When the Sun goes true, a solar maximum does not mean it’ll burn the Earth; it just means an increase in sunspot and solar flare activity.
NOAA and NASA explain that the current solar minimum we are entering, or probably entered, doesn’t look particularly unusual, and we can expect it to be, in terms of intensity, similar to the previous cycle.