Cosmic rays — high-energy particles that move through space at the speed of light — are intensifying as the Sun enters a ‘solar minimum’, which could be a hazard to astronauts and produce more storms.
The reason that rays are intensifying is because of the lack of sunspots — dark spots that appear on the Sun’s surface caused by magnetic fields which illuminate earth with X-ray and ultraviolet radiation.
A solar minimum, which is a “regular part of the sunspot cycle,” according to Dean Pesnell of Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, means that the Sun's magnetic field is weak. This results in extra cosmic rays entering the solar system.
Neutron counts from the University of Oulu’s Sodankyla Geophysical Observatory show that cosmic rays reaching Earth in 2020 are near a “Space Age peak” wrote Dr. Tony Phillips on his website.
“So far this year, the sun has been blank 76 per cent of the time, a rate surpassed only once before in the Space Age. Last year, 2019, the sun was blank 77 per cent of the time. Two consecutive years of record-setting spotlessness adds up to a very deep Solar Minimum” Phillips also wrote, while suggesting that “excess cosmic rays...affect the electro-chemistry of Earth”s upper atmosphere and may help trigger lightning.”
Some have speculated that the lowered output from the sun could result in a “Little Ice Age”, similar to the one that occurred between the 14th and 19th century and happened concurrently with mountain glacier expansion in the European Alps, New Zealand, and Alaska among other locations, and lower temperatures across the northern hemisphere.
However, even that has been contended, with research suggesting that “multiple factors, particularly volcanic activity, were crucial for causing the cooler temperatures” and that “a reduction in total solar irradiance likely contributed at a level comparable to changing land use.” The Independent
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