Humanity could soon face a long, cold winter which could see temperatures across the planet plunge to depressing lows. A Nasa scientist who fears sunspot activity on the surface of our star has dropped to a new low. It’s feared this could herald the arrival of a uniquely grim ‘mini Ice Age’. ‘We see a cooling trend,’ Martin Mlynczak of Nasa’s Langley Research Center told Space Weather. ‘High above Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy.
‘If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.’ Sunspot activity follows a cycle which is believed to last 11 years as the number of patches peaks and drops. There have been very few spots on the sun for most of this year. This could mean that it will get very cold, very quickly. However, it’s difficult to predict the impact of solar activity on the Earth and scientists are stil debating how sunspots affect our weather. ‘It could happen in a matter of months,’ Mlynczak added.
Earlier this year, Nasa released a picture showing the blank face of the sun looking more like a snooker ball than the roiling surface of a super-hot star. The sun is predicted to reach its ‘solar minimum’ low point in 2019 or 2020, according to Nasa’s calculations. Perhaps the most famous period of low sunspot activity was the Maunder Minimum of the 17th century. During that time, there was a ‘little ice age’ when the Thames froze over, although researchers believe that global warming will stop this happening again. Solar minimum may enhance the effects of space weather, disrupt communications and navigation, and even cause space junk to ‘hang around’, Nasa said.
Last year, a scientist claimed the chilling effect on the lack of sunspots could actually save us from global warming – although her claims were hotly disputed. Valentina Zharkova, a professor of mathematics at Northumbria University, published a paper which contains ‘the first serious prediction of a reduction of solar activity that might affect human lives’. ‘I hope global warming will be overridden by this effect, giving humankind and the Earth 30 years to sort out our pollution,’ she said. Michael Brown, an associate professor of astronomy at Monash University in Australia, said the Maunder Minimum could have been caused by other factors including the eruptions of volcanos.
He does not believe a mini Ice Age is enough to save us from manmade climate change. ‘There is 40% more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the air now than during the 17th century, and global temperature records are being smashed,’ he said. ‘A new Maunder Minimum would slow climate change, but it is not enough to stop it.’