The sun today. There appears to be an emerging Cycle 23 spot
at the left, but still no new Cycle 24 spots. Click for large image
That’s never a good sign. Below is an excerpt from an article in Science Daily that ponders the question:
Excerpt: The sun has been laying low for the past couple of years, producing no sunspots and giving a break to satellites. That’s good news for people who scramble when space weather interferes with their technology, but it became a point of discussion for the scientists who attended an international solar conference at Montana State University. Approximately 100 scientists from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America gathered June 1-6 to talk about “Solar Variability, Earth’s Climate and the Space Environment.”
The scientists said periods of inactivity are normal for the sun, but this period has gone on longer than usual. “It continues to be dead,” said Saku Tsuneta with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, program manager for the Hinode solar mission. […] The last cycle reached its peak in 2001 and is believed to be just ending now, Longcope said. The next cycle is just beginning and is expected to reach its peak sometime around 2012. Today’s sun, however, is as inactive as it was two years ago, and scientists aren’t sure why. “It’s a dead face,” Tsuneta said of the sun’s appearance.
Tsuneta said solar physicists aren’t like weather forecasters; They can’t predict the future. They do have the ability to observe, however, and they have observed a longer-than-normal period of solar inactivity. In the past, they observed that the sun once went 50 years without producing sunspots. That period, from approximately 1650 to 1700, occurred during the middle of a little ice age on Earth that lasted from as early as the mid-15th century to as late as the mid-19th century.
I’m never encouraged when a solar scientist describes the face of the sun as “dead”.