Every ten years or so, the sun will enter what is called “Solar Minimum.” What that means is that activity on its surface decreases dramatically and we will have a cooler summer. But this time scientists fear that it could be a repeat of the Dalton Minimum which occurred between 1790-1830. During the Dalton Minimum there were periods of freezing cold, crop loss, famine and powerful volcanic eruptions.
What Happens During a Solar Minimum?
When the sun is going full throttle there are a number of things going on. Solar flares and a maximum of sun spots. These sun spots are highly magnetic and interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. Magnetic explosions illuminate Earth with flashes of X-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation. The sun is a hot bed of activity… until it’s not.
During the Solar Minimum the Sun’s activity subsides meaning there are less sunspots and magnetic fields drop significantly. This doesn’t mean the sun will become dull but it does mean that it will have an effect on our atmosphere.
Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD says, “during solar minimum we can see the development of long-lived coronal holes.”
Pesnell says “We see these holes throughout the solar cycle, but during solar minimum, they can last for a long time – six months or more.” Streams of solar wind flowing from coronal holes can cause space weather effects near Earth when they hit Earth’s magnetic field. These effects can include temporary disturbances of the Earth’s magnetosphere, called geomagnetic storms, auroras, and disruptions to communications and navigation systems.
What can we expect from 2020’s Solar Minimum?
Every 11 years the sun will enter Solar Minimum. It’s a normal part of the sun spot cycle but this year they are expecting it to be a bit more complex than in years prior. In 2014 the sun was at a relative high. Now in 2020 they fear that it will be a repeat of the Dalton Minimum which caused cold temperatures, crop loss, famine and volcanic eruptions.
Pesnell says that “During solar minimum, the sun’s magnetic field weakens and provides less shielding from these cosmic rays. This can pose an increased threat to astronauts traveling through space.” So you probably should avoid that.. we’re looking at you Tom Cruise.
But here on Earth it could mean other things as well. On April 10, 1815 during the Dalton Minimum, the second-largest volcanic eruption in 2,000 years happened at Mount Tambora in Indonesia, killing at least 71,000 people. And it also led to the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816 which was also dubbed “eighteen hundred and froze to death” when there was recorded snow in July.
For 2020 that means we may be able to expect an increase in cold weather this summer and a lack of crops. So there may be some foods that we just can’t get a hold of.
So now with 2019 bringing COVID-19, 2020 bringing “Murder Hornets” and now with our sun entering a Solar Minimum we’ve pretty much got ourselves set up for an interesting next couple of years.