Special report: Rhythms of the Sun

News 12's Joe Rao sat with noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to discuss the effect of the sun on Earth's climate.

Tyson says the sun is the Earth's source of both energy and sustenance. He says that at about 93 million miles away, people here don't often think about what's going on at the sun, but if you look closely, you'll realize "it's a boiling, turbulent soup of gas."

The Earth basks in a constant flow of solar energy, which powers our winds and keeps the atmosphere in constant motion. But the sun seems to alter its energy output with profound consequences for life on Earth. Magnetic fields erupt from the sun as dark blemishes, or sunspots, and there appears to be a link between sunspots and the Earth's climate.

Beginning in about 1650, the Northern Hemisphere was gripped by a prolonged chill called "The Little Ice Age." At the same time sunspots virtually disappeared from the sun. Then around 1715, sunspots reappeared and the Northern Hemisphere began to warm.

According to Tyson, this cooling trend is not positive. "If that will cause a cooling trend, then what I fear is this could mask what would otherwise be the warming trend by human-induced activities." He goes on to say that people would then become complacent, and think nothing of the trend, until the sun goes back to normal.

Unfortunately, there are no concrete answers for why the sun changes so erratically, or whether the sunspots have an influence on Earth's weather. 

Dr. Tyson also works as the director of New York's Hayden Planetarium and has hosted numerous scientific series.

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