The Asahi Shimbun* reports that “Officials of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Riken research foundation said on April 19 that the activity of sunspots appeared to resemble a 70-year period in the 17th century in which London’s Thames froze over and cherry blossoms bloomed later than usual in Kyoto. The sun may be entering a period of reduced activity that could result in lower temperatures on Earth, according to Japanese researchers. “ They are suggesting that solar Cycle 24 is the beginning of an era similar to the Maunder Minimum.
A solar cycle usually lasts about 11 years. During the cycle, the poles switch polarity at about the time of the solar maximum. Many scientists are predicting that Cycle 24’s maximum will occur about May of 2013. However, the Japanese researchers found signs of unusual magnetic changes in the sun. They report that the solar observation satellite Hinode found that the north pole of the Sun has already begun to flip—about a year earlier than expected. They found no noticeable change in the South Pole.
The researchers add: “If that trend continues, the north pole could complete its flip in May 2012 but create a four-pole magnetic structure in the sun, with two new poles created in the vicinity of the equator of our closest star. “
Below is the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s representation of the Sun’s poles in May 2012:
*The Asahi Shimbun has the second highest circulation of Japan’s national newspapers