The eerily lethargic sun shows no signs of perking up, solar physicists say. The sun may wallow in inactivity for the next decade – or longer, which could affect Earth's climate as well as the health of orbiting satellites.
The sun has been unusually placid lately. In 2008, the solar wind slowed to a 50-year low, coinciding with the least active point in the 11-year sunspot cycle. That dip in activity has also been deeper and longer than usual.
And the sun may sit out the following solar maximum as well. Another team led by William Livingston, also of the National Solar Observatory, has observed magnetic fields necessary to produce sunspots steadily weakening for the past 13 years. If the trend continues, the fields may be too weak to birth new sunspots for the following cycle in 2022, they say.
A third team led by Hill has been tracking winds that blow beneath the sun's visible surface. A wind pattern that preceded previous solar cycle peaks has not appeared on schedule, which is another indication that the normal behaviour has broken down, they say.