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How Long Will Our Sun Remain Quiet and Cosmic Rays Increase? by Linda Moulton Howe
Tuesday, November 3rd 2009, 7:05 AM UTC
Co2sceptic (Site Admin)
October 30, 2009 Huntsville, Alabama - For twelve years, NASA has had a satellite positioned a million miles in front of Earth with the sun about 92 million miles beyond. Its mission has been to study particles that come near Earth from our sun, the solar system and the galaxy. The satellite is called Advanced Composition Explorer, or ACE, and some of the highly energetic particles ACE has been monitoring are cosmic rays.

The number of cosmic rays reaching Earth are lower when the sun is active and has a strong, turbulent magnetic field that interferes with cosmic ray travel. But when the sun is not active, more cosmic rays reach Earth. The sun is supposed to be in an increasingly active period of Solar Cycle 24 with a solar maximum originally expected in 2011 to 2012. But the sun has been abnormally quiet. Scientists have not seen such a persistently low sunspot number for at least a century. Further, the magnetic field of the sun is at the lowest strength measured in at least 50 years.

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Beginning six months ago, ACE satellite data showed a rise in cosmic rays reaching Earth from the Milky Way galaxy. By now, cosmic ray intensity has increased 19% because our sun is so quiet that its reduced magnetic field isn’t deflecting cosmic rays like it has the past few decades. If our sun remains quiet, there could be a 30% increase in cosmic rays reaching Earth in the next year or so – an intensity not seen since 1960. Increased cosmic rays can damage electronic systems and even DNA in living creatures.

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What has happened to our sun? NASA’s Heliospheric Team Leader, David Hathaway, says he cannot find another solar minimum in the past that has acted quite like this one that has put out only a few sunspots since Solar Cycle 24 officially began at the end of 2008. Our sun is so quiet that solar physicists from around the world gathered in September to discuss whether we are entering a period similar to the Maunder Minimum of 1645 to 1715, when for 70 years the sun was spotless and there was a mini-ice age. There was no ACE satellite then, but measurements of beryllium concentrations in ice layers indicate that during the Maunder Minimum, cosmic rays were 2.5 times what they are now. Dr. Hathaway points out that Earth scientists did not start measuring cosmic rays until the beginning of the modern Space Age in the early 1960s, and that for the past five decades, our sun might have been unusually active. Also see:
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