...does the Earth freeze?
In the last week, the world’s media have been getting very excited about the Sun. It started with reports from America that the Sun’s magnetic field is weakening and that the Sun could be entering a period of decreased activity, or even go into some sort of solar-hibernation. There have been predictions that the solar shut-down could counteract global warming or that it might herald the arrive of a new Ice Age, but what’s really happening and how will it effect our little, blue planet?
Firstly, although our knowledge of the mechanisms that drive the Sun has greatly increased in recent years, there is still an awful lot we don’t know how it works and how it interacts with the rest of the solar system – Earth included.
Our planet inhabits an exotic, complex and inherently hostile environment. Above the protective cocoon of our atmosphere and magnetic field is a seething soup of electrified and magnetised matter, seasoned with a hefty slug of energetic particles and radiation. Some of this comes in the form of cosmic radiation from outside of our solar system, but much of it comes from our Sun. This radiation has lots of obvious effects on the planet but many of its influences are far subtler with a multitude of variables (many of which we haven’t even begun to understand) affecting the ultimate outcome.