Amid COVID-19 lockdown, a lot of bamboozling astronomical events are taking place. The foremost event is a long unabated solar minimum. To understand the solar minimum, we need to understand sunspots. Sunspots are irregularly shaped dark regions in the photosphere (the outer layer of the Sun which we usually see). These are the cooler regions than its surroundings by 2000°C (Average temperature around the sunspot is little more than 5000°C). These spots are the area where a lot of magnetic activity is going on. This magnetic activity produces solar flares. A solar flare is a violent, eruptive event of the Sun. Within only a few minutes, the temperature in this compact region rises to 5 million Kelvin, and vast quantities of ionized particles, electrons, and radiations are blasted into space. The most energetic flares carry as much as 1030 Joules of energy. It is equivalent to 1014 one-megaton nuclear weapons being exploded at once. If these ejections reach to our Earth, they can play havoc to the human lives. But, thanks to our Earth’s magnetic field, these charged particles are trapped in our atmosphere and we get a visual splendor of aurora from poles to the northern and southern countries.
But these sunspots never remain constant in number. This number grows from maximum to minimum in an averagely eleven-year cycle known as the sunspot cycle. Sunspot maximum occurred in 1979, 1989, 2000, and minimums were recorded in 1976, 1986, 1996, 2009. Now, the joint venture of the European Space Agency (ESA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has detected a long solar minimum where sunspot is barely visible. It is named SunSpotcycle25.
It did happen previously.
Such a long persistent solar minimum did happen previously too. The years between1645-1715, a very few sunspots were recorded. This is known as the Maunder minimum. Interestingly, this minimum coincides with the middle of the period called the Little Ice Age. This period recorded unusually very cold weather in Europe and North America. The second minimum recorded from 1792 to 1830 known as Dalton minimum.
This period brought lower than average global temperature. Oberlach station in Germany recorded a 2°C decline over 20 years. It devastated Germany’s food production. During 1816, June and July recorded unusual snowfall. Water froze in cisterns and further snowfall happened. Simply, the spring and then the summer failed to arrive. Southern Asia received torrential rains and triggered a Cholera epidemic that killed thousands. In western India, three famines occurred (1790, 1803 and 1812).
Is there a possibility of little ice age again?
Now with Solar minimum again, is there any possibility of Little Ice Age? But if we compare the situation of 1719-1830 with the present, there is a massive shift in the condition. We have burned tons and tons of fossil fuels for the last 10 decades. This has created a global temperature rise but the recent lockdown gives ample time for the Earth’s atmosphere to clear its nuisances. The ozone layer is now reverted to its original structure. Can we say, this lockdown has offset the global temperature rise? If that happens, we cannot rule out completely the Little Ice Age arrival (because SC25 will stay up to 2025).
Something even more startling
The second and even bizarre event is happening at our own backyard, the Earth. The magnetic field which protects us from the radiation is decreasing in strength. Over the last two hundred years, Earth’s magnetic fields has lost 9% of its strength on the global average from 24,000 nT (nanotesla) to 22,000 nT. The data from ESA Swarm Probe tells us that area from Africa to South America, Earth’s magnetic field is gradually weakening. This is known as South Pole Anomaly and is puzzling to scientists. To add more woes, recent studies have also shown that the position of the north magnetic pole is changing rapidly. In fact, from 1990 onwards the speed is more. Can we say the pole is reversing? It does take roughly 2, 50,000 years to reverse the poles of the Earth. 1, 78,000 years elapsed since the last reversal. What’s more? Earth is slowing too.
What these astronomical events have to do with the current pandemic? One interesting research was done by John Yeung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In 2006, he studied the Sunspot Cycle and the outbreak of Influenza pandemic (present COVID-19 is one of this type) and postulated that there is a link between these two. It is suggested that the virus spread from migratory birds to the other avian species such as chickens or ducks along their migratory pathways. The fluctuation in the sunspots delays the arrival of these migratory birds. This delayed arrival may be associated with increased contact with other susceptible birds in their routes. Five comprehensive reviews were found and in agreement on pandemics were good to excellent (See Medical hypothesis Volume 67, issue 5, 2006 pages 1016-1022). The change in the North Pole direction can confuse the migratory birds and delay their arrival more and hence more contacts with the chicken, ducks, or bats (source of a present pandemic). Can we say that these three effects viz. sunspot minimum, weakening of magnetic field, and polarity changes may be the triggering events for the current pandemic?
But the more surprising is the obnoxious attack of locust (Schistocerca gregaria) in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
One wonders what these attacks have to do with solar minimum/magnetic field reversal. When I was digging deep, I come across one such research paper. It was published in Nature magazine by E.D. Archibald in December 1878 (available at archives.org). He showed statistically that there is a direct relationship between the locust attack and solar minimum. Every time the solar minimum occurred; there is a forage of locust attacks. With this theory in perspective, we can judge that the present locust attack is also taken place at solar minimum. Is it just a coincidence or there is scientific evidence between solar minimum and locust attack? Further research is needed but the previous 140 years data strongly suggest that there is some link between solar minimum and current pandemic and locust attacks! Can we say that if we keep our eyes on the Sun, we can foretell the approaching calamities? Perhaps yes.