Three Cheers for the Boring Sun!


Image from Pandiyan V via Flickr

This week The New York Times ran an article on what it called “a pretty boring star”. No, it wasn’t a Kardashian; it was our very own sun. It turns out that, as stars go, ours is dull, dull, dull. But this dullness is really great news for us.

“It doesn’t oscillate or explode, periodically scorching us or freezing us out. In all of recorded history, as far as scientists have been able to tell, the sun’s output has varied by only a tenth of a percent.”

So the sun, it seems, is a little bit of a slacker. No explosions, no going cold: snoozeville really. Great news for us living on Earth, sure, but bad news for star junkies. The article notes, though, that even as a boring star, our sun is “an enormous thermonuclear furnace” with a temperature of 15 million degrees at its center—yikes!

So of course you are probably wondering if the sun could be related to our recent climate change. Indeed, many climate change deniers have accused scientists of ignoring the sun as an obvious driver of climate change. And how could anyone really ignore the sun? It’s right there in the middle of the solar system. Plus it’s hot. It makes the Earth hot. The sun is central to our climate and responsible for life on Earth. You go ahead and try to convince me that the sun isn’t important!

Well, no one said it wasn’t.

Skeptical Science does a great job of explaining the relationship between the sun and recent climate changes:

“Over the last 35 years the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. However global temperatures have been increasing. Since the sun and climate are going in opposite directions scientists conclude the sun cannot be the cause of recent global warming. The only way to blame the sun for the current rise in temperatures is by cherry picking the data. This is done by showing only past periods when sun and climate move together and ignoring the last few decades when the two are moving in opposite directions.”

And what about solar cycles, which some climate change deniers are fond of connecting with global warming? Well, Skeptical Science addresses this too:

“The claim that solar cycle length proves the sun is driving global warming is based on a single study published in 1991. Subsequent research, including a paper by a co-author of the original 1991 paper, finds the opposite conclusion. Solar cycle length as a proxy for solar activity tells us the sun has had very little contribution to global warming since 1975.”

So, okay, the sun is great, the sun is hot, the sun is a fundamental aspect of climate. We know about the sun, and now we also know that changes in the sun are not responsible for recent climate changes. Three cheers for our beloved, but very boring Sun.