On August 3rd and 4th 2010, a solar flare erupted from the surface of the Sun coincident with a sunspot equal in area to the Earth. Many people saw the associated increase in aurora visible in western North America as far south as Iowa. They were most visible in the auroral belt shown in Figure 1, which is well north at this time of year.
Many prepared for other impacts and all sorts of hysterical predictions were made including claims this was the start of increasingly severe activity leading to 2012. (Yes, the dreaded Mayan calendar year nonsense). The only thing that materialized was an extensive and dazzling aurora display.
NASA Continues Its Shameless Role As Chicken Little
Earlier in June 2010, NASA put out similar warnings about such solar storms. Dr. Richard Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division warned Britain they faced “…widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation ‘space storm'”. He also stated, “It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world” and that “Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time.”
Some of these events are possible and have occurred before, but nothing with such widespread impact has occurred.
Why is NASA making such alarmist statements? It’s a pattern of that agency, especially about global warming from James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS). His involvement goes beyond scaring people to open political activity and modifying the official record. After all the threats, Dr. Fisher provides his escape clause: “We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be.” Is NASA prepared to cover costs incurred by his alarmism?
People have dealt with the impact of Solar Flares over the years. NASA claims increased frequency in the future, but this is only true because the natural sunspot pattern continues. Cycle 24 (Cycle 1 was in 1755) is underway and will continue to a peak through 2013. The prediction is for sunspot activity to decrease to levels associated with the Dalton Minimum from 1790 to 1830 (Figure 2) and that means a cooler world. It began in 2000 and continues with more severe condition reported every month. Merco Press headline for August 4, 2010 says, “Snow in Brazil, below zero Celsius in the River Plate and tropical fish frozen”.
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Is NASA diverting attention from the public’s growing awareness of the role of the Sun in global warming and climate change? They’ve drifted a long way from when they were doing good non-political climate science with publication of Sun, Weather, and Climate by Herman and Goldberg in 1978. The best book on these relationships since is The Maunder Minimum and the Variable Sun-Earth Connection by Willie Soon and Steven Yaskell. Willie Soon is at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and has published extensively. He was attacked by the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and by Obama’s science advisor John Holdren.
Edmond Halley, the astronomer famous for predicting the return of the Comet that bears his name, was born in 1656 and died in 1742. This time span is coincident with two significant periods of low solar activity and low global temperatures. There were virtually no sunspots from 1645 to 1720 in a period known as the Maunder Minimum (Figure 2). It’s coincident with the coldest period of the Little Ice Age (LIA) beginning in 1650. The world has warmed since not due to CO2, but increasing solar activity as the graph indicates. Now, solar activity is declining and global temperatures will decline, in contradiction to claims of official science touted by NASA.
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There were virtually no aurora borealis (Northern Lights) or Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) during the Maunder Minimum because they’re created by mechanisms related to sunspot activity. Halley knew about sunspots and aurora from the scientific literature, but had never seen them. He was thrilled when, late in his career, the Royal Society commissioned him to travel to Scotland to confirm reports of aurora. He began his report in the Philosophical Transactions of the Society by praising God for allowing him to live long enough to witness them and how he was “astonished at this surprising sight.”
Soon and Yaskell point out that connections between sunspots and weather go back 3200 years to ancient China. Theophrastus, student to Aristotle also spoke of sunspots and linked them to precipitation 2400 years ago.
They’re talking about sunspots, but how are they related to aurora? Sunspots and associated solar flares are visible evidence of changes in the Sun. Charged particles emanating from the Sun steam toward Earth and interact with the earth’s magnetic field. This flow, known as the solar wind, varies in strength as the number of sunspots and flares vary.
The charged particles are funneled along the lines of magnetic force, become concentrated where the lines dip in to the Poles. They collide with and excite gases of the upper atmosphere creating the auroral ring in Figure 1. The excited gases glow with the color determined by the gas; nitrogen produces red aurora and oxygen almost white through yellow to green. This is similar to a neon tube in which the color is determined by the gas excited by passing an electric current through it.
Empirical Evidence Confirmed
People were aware of the correlation between sunspots, aurora and weather for a long time. Some cultures used the aurora to make weather forecasts. For example, a scientific expedition led by Henry Youle Hind, across Canada on September 19, 1858 records an Ojibwa Indian prediction.
We arrived at the mouth of the river at 10 a.m., and hastened to avail ourselves of a southeast wind just to rise. Last night the aurora was very beautiful, and extended far beyond the zenith, leading the voyageurs to predict a windy day. The notion prevails with them that when the aurora is low, the following day will be calm: when high, stormy.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and NASA ignore the correlation because they say there’s no plausible mechanism of cause and effect. This changed in the 1990s with Svensmark’s cosmic theory in which changes in the Sun that trigger sunspots were related to changes in the strength of the magnetic field. This controls the amount of cosmic radiation reaching the lower atmosphere where it creates cloud. As low cloud cover varies, the global temperature varies.
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It’s time NASA, the IPCC and other government agencies concerned with the atmosphere shift their gaze from the swamp that is politics to the heavens that are the harbinger of understanding and the future climate.