sun no sunspots
The sun without any sunspots
As the sun's spots get blanked out for the fourth time in 2016, it becomes totally blank, which may herald a mini Ice Age

Shivers! Yesterday, NASA images showed that the sun has gone "blank" without any sunspots for the fourth time this year. The solar surface shows complete inaction. It could lead us to the Ice Age, say climate experts.

Usually, our sun doesn't have a pleasant face, but looks burning hot, pocked by sunspots. But now, it looks smooth, with sunspots at the lowest rate for 10,000 years. Solar activity too has slowed down.

However, the sun's pleasant face isn't too pleasant for the earth. Such blank faces, without sunspot activity could usher in a cold spell, just like the Maunder Minimum, which began in 1645 and went on till 1715. That was called the Little Ice Age and even became well-known because of the winter frost fairs that became popular on the frozen surface of the Thames.

The warning was issued by meteorologist and renowned sun-watcher Paul Dorian in his report, which spread some tension: "The blank sun is a sign that the next solar minimum is approaching and there will be an increasing number of spotless days over the next few years," said Dorian. "At first, the blankness will stretch for just a few days at a time, then it'll continue for weeks at a time, and finally it should last for months at a time when the sunspot cycle reaches its nadir. The next solar minimum phase is expected to take place around 2019 or 2020."

Sunspot activity is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth within a period of 11 or 12 years. However, solar activity is falling more rapidly than at any time in the last 10,000 years.

As SpaceWeather put it: "Right now the pendulum is swinging toward low sunspot numbers. Forecasters expect the cycle to hit rock bottom in 2019-2020. Between now and then, there will be lots of spotless suns. At first, the blank stretches will be measured in days; later in weeks and months. The current blank spell is the 4th such interval of 2016, so far."

Hence predictions - and these are not from astrologers but weathermen - forecast that more blank suns are likely. "There will be lots of spotless suns," say the forecasters.

Last year, Professor Valentina Zharkov said that in the 2030s, the sun's activity could plunge by 60%, leading to the next mini Ice Age. It would lead to crop failures as well as other disasters on the planet.

He said: "I am absolutely confident in our research. It has a good mathematical background and reliable data, which has been handled correctly. In fact, our results can be repeated by any researchers with the similar data available in many solar observatories, so they can derive their own evidence of upcoming Maunder Minimum in solar magnetic field and activity."