x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

A serving of dim sun

The sun has been busy lately: sunspot production. magnetic field strength, and other things solar-physics scientists care about are in an active phase. But starting around 2020, the opposite will be true. We'll see what, if anything, all this means for global warming,

The sun is going into hibernation on us. Around 2020, sunspots and solar flares - signs of intense heat storms - might disappear for years, maybe decades.

This is the prediction of scientists at a recent solar physics conference in New Mexico, based on sunspot activity, magnetic field strength and a disappearing solar jet stream.

The sun's current active phase is expected to peak in 2013. Could Europe and North America now be heading for another Little Ice Age? The last one began with the diappearance of sunspots in 1645 and lasted for 70 years.

But wait a minute. Wasn't the Earth supposed to be heating up? Could Al Gore have been wrong? Was his inconvenient truth untrue after all?

Not quite so fast. The best available science indicates that solar flares have a relatively insignificant effect on global warming. But that is the beauty of science: received wisdom always has to stand up to the test.

"The solar cycle is maybe going into hiatus, sort of like a summertime TV show," said Frank Hill, an associate director at the National Solar Observatory. "We'll have a wonderful experiment that will determine whether the sun has any effect on global warming."