Science Scanner: There Goes the Sun

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 7:37 pm (UTC-4)
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For years, scientists have said the sun should be in a state called “solar maximum” at around 2012. That’s  when the sun experiences the greatest solar activity within its solar cycle; producing intense flares and experiencing an increase in sunspots.

However, the scientists have noticed – and are a bit perplexed – that the sun is relatively quiet and not displaying signs of the predicted increased activity.

Experts from the National Solar Observatory and US Air Force Research Laboratory have noticed a missing solar jet stream, fading sunspots and slower-than-usual activity near the poles.

According to three studies released Tuesday, scientists believe the sunspot cycle – instead of increasing as they expected – may be shutting down. The sun could be heading toward a period of inactivity the likes of which hasn’t been observed since the 17th century. That’s a time climatologists refer to as “The Little Ice Age”.

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India Unveils Ambitious Solar Power Project

India has unveiled an ambitious plan to boost green energy production from nearly zero to 20 gigawatts by 2022.

To  kick off the program,  India is investing $2.2 billion in hopes of producing 700 megawatts of solar power starting in December.

The “Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission” is a major initiative of the Indian government and its localities, to promote ecologically sustainable growth while also addressing the country’s energy security challenge.

India’s Solar Mission plan is expected to raise a total of $70 billion in investments. The goal is to produce 1,300 megawatts by 2013, another up to 10 GW by 2017 and the rest by 2022.

The project should help India, the world’s number three carbon polluter, cut back on its use of coal in power generation while also helping ease the country’s power deficit.

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A Million Bangladesh Households Embrace Solar Power

Meanwhile, India’s neighbor Bangladesh is also taking advantage of the sun’s energy to produce electricity.

According to the country’s Infrastructure Development Company (IDCOL), the number of households using solar panels has crossed the one million mark, making it the fastest expansion of solar use in the world.

Just about 7,000 households were using solar panels in 2002, but now more than a million households – some five million people – use the photovoltaic panels to gather solar energy.

The installation and use of solar panels serve two critical needs for the people of Bangladesh. Not only are they cutting back on the use of carbon-producing energy, but many who live in rural households aren’t connected to the state’s energy grid, so this gives them their first access to electrical power.

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Humans Outdo Volcanoes in Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Climate change skeptics often claim that the the amount of carbon dioxide expelled by world’s volcanoes greatly exceeds what is generated by humans.

But a new report  in today’s issue of Eos magazine finds exactly the opposite to be true.

The report indicates that human sources of carbon dioxide, such as what comes out of factory smokestacks and automobile tailpipes, put out as much CO2 in just two-to-five days, as the Earth’s volcanic activity emits in an entire year.

Past studies have shown that volcanoes throughout the world emit between 130 to 440 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas every year.

In comparison, humans were responsible for 35 BILLION metric tons of carbon dioxide in just 2010 alone.

In an effort to frame this comparison, scientists point to volcanic events, such as 1991’s nine-hour eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which can produce CO2 at the same rate that humans do, but these volcanic eruptions only last for relatively short periods of time.  In other words, it would take more than 700 of those Mount Pinatubo eruptions over a year to expel as much carbon dioxide as people do.

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Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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