If we make it past 2012, we might not be totally out of the woods when it comes to the sun. The next 11-year cycle of increased sunspot activity—expected around 2020—may be a few years late, be less powerful than anticipated, or might not happen at all, according to three separate studies. It could even lead to a quiet period much like the Maunder Minimum that saw almost no sunspots from 1645 to 1715 and coincided with the "Little Ice Age," reports the LA Times.
"There is evidence that the sun goes into periods like that 10% to 15% of the time," says a NASA physicist. "And we may be due for another one." Sunspot activity—linked to the reversal of its magnetic fields every 22 years—has been in decline for the past 13 years, and solar jet streams that typically precede the normal start of a solar cycle are missing. But aside from potential climate changes, the effects of such a lull would probably have little effect on humans—telecommunications interference and power transmission problems occur from increased sunspot activity. It could even make space exploration and solar studies easier. (Read more solar activity stories.)