Solar Wind Loses Power, Hits 50-year Low 

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Solar Wind Loses Power, Hits 50-year Low

This could affect both climate and evolution
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23 Sep 08 - Excerpts from NASA announcement.

"As you already know, a few weeks ago the sun reached a milestone not seen for nearly 100 years: an entire month had passed without a single visible sunspot being noted. Today comes even more unsettling news.

"In a briefing yesterday at NASA headquarters, solar physicists announced that the solar wind is losing power.  

"The average pressure of the solar wind has dropped more than 20% since the mid-1990s," says Dave McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "This is the weakest it's been since we began monitoring solar wind almost 50 years ago."

"McComas is principal investigator for the SWOOPS solar wind sensor onboard the Ulysses spacecraft, which measured the decrease. Ulysses, launched in 1990, circles the sun in a unique orbit that carries it over both the sun's poles and equator, giving Ulysses a global view of solar wind activity:

"Curiously, the speed of the million mph solar wind hasn't decreased much—only 3%. The change in pressure comes mainly from reductions in temperature and density. The solar wind is 13% cooler and 20% less dense.

               Thirteen percent cooler. Do you suppose that this might
               cause cooler temperatures on earth? 

"What we're seeing is a long term trend, a steady decrease in pressure that began sometime in the mid-1990s," explains Arik Posner, NASA's Ulysses Program Scientist in Washington DC.

"How unusual is this event?

"It's hard to say. We've only been monitoring solar wind since the early years of the Space Age—from the early 60s to the present," says Posner. "Over that period of time, it's unique. How the event stands out over centuries or millennia, however, is anybody's guess. We don't have data going back that far."

"Flagging solar wind has repercussions across the entire solar system—beginning with the heliosphere.

"The heliosphere is a bubble of magnetism springing from the sun and inflated to colossal proportions by the solar wind. Every planet from Mercury to Pluto and beyond is inside it. The heliosphere is our solar system's first line of defense against galactic cosmic rays. High-energy particles from black holes and supernovas try to enter the solar system, but most are deflected by the heliosphere's magnetic fields.

"The solar wind isn't inflating the heliosphere as much as it used to," says McComas. "That means less shielding against cosmic rays."

               Losing our shielding against cosmic rays! This is exactly
               what I say causes evolutionary leaps in my new book
               Magnetic Reversals and Evolutionary Leaps!

"In addition to weakened solar wind, "Ulysses also finds that the sun's underlying magnetic field has weakened by more than 30% since the mid-1990s," says Posner. "This reduces natural shielding even more."

"Unpublished Ulysses cosmic ray data show that, indeed, high energy (GeV) electrons, a minor but telltale component of cosmic rays around Earth, have jumped in number by about 20%.

"These extra particles pose no threat to people on Earth's surface. Our thick atmosphere and planetary magnetic field provide additional layers of protection that keep us safe.

               They may not cause a threat … yet, but as our planetary
               magnetic field strength declines (which is now happening)
               I sure think they will.

"But any extra cosmic rays can have consequences. If the trend continues, astronauts on the Moon or en route to Mars would get a higher dose of space radiation. Robotic space probes and satellites in high Earth orbit face an increased risk of instrument malfunctions and reboots due to cosmic ray strikes. Also, there are controversial studies linking cosmic ray fluxes to cloudiness and climate change on Earth. That link may be tested in the years ahead.

               A higher dose of space radiation “poses no threat to people on
              Earth’s surface.” I find it hard to believe such a statement.

See entire article:
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/23sep_solarwind.htm
Thanks to Icewoman, Justin Davies, Ian Holden, Lyn Clark, Thomas L. and John Brown for this link

 

 



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