Washington, June 13 (ANI): Estimates indicate that solar activity will peak in 2013, but it would be the lowest peak recorded since the 1920s.
The sun was expected to hit a low in 2008 as part of its normal 11-year cycle of activity. ut, it stayed quiet until very recently, confounding scientists and sparking speculation of a sun-triggered "little ice age."
Solar physicists have denied that potential, saying that today's greenhouse gases have much more influence on global temperatures than the sun.
Now, according to a report in National Geographic News, the sun appears to be waking up, and the latest prediction from a panel convened by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that the sun is simply a year late.
Solar activity will peak in 2013, the experts say, with 90 sunspots predicted that year.
Still, this would be the lowest peak recorded since the 1920s, and the experts are cautious about their own predictions.
"Go ahead and mark your calendar for (a peak in) May 2013," panel member Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center said in a press statement. "But use a pencil," he added.
Sunspots, solar flares, and so-called zonal flows-streams of plasma akin to Earth's jet streams-are all tracked as signs of magnetic activity on the sun.
When the sun is very active, solar storms can disrupt satellites, endanger astronauts, and knock out power grids on Earth.
Recent data show that the sun's activity is slowly ratcheting back up.
Most experts, including panel member and solar researcher Leif Svalgaard, are taking this as a sign that the sun is back on track and headed toward a solar maximum.
Svalgaard notes, however, that current predictions are based more on long-term statistics than the sun's recent behavior.
According to him, a peak of 90 sunspots may be optimistic.
Meanwhile, other experts are suggesting that this year's low may not be so unusual.
The sun may now be returning to the quieter times of the 1920s, which were closer to normal, according to Mike Lockwood, a solar terrestrial physicist at the University of Southampton in the UK.
"It is quite possible that the solar activity will be even lower than the panel is estimating," Lockwood said. "I have a suspicion this will be a yet weaker cycle than the one before," he added. (ANI)