‘Climate Change Satellite’ Gets its Day in the Sun — Finally

The Earth-orbiting satellite Glory will help pursue the sun-climate connection when it launches on Wednesday. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA is launching an Earth-orbiting satellite called Glory tomorrow that will tackle a highly charged question: How much can the sun contribute to climate change?

The lull in solar activity between solar cycles 23 and 24 lasted for two years, twice as long as expected. By mid-2009, well into the second year, predictions of global cooling — another Little Ice Age — dominated global warming skeptic blogs. Now Solar Cycle 24 is safely underway, but aside from the dramatic flare and rash of sunspots that erupted last week, it’s been wimpy. Tom Woods, a solar physicist at the Boulder, Colo.-based Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, says he expects a subdued maximum for Solar Cycle 24 (around 2013) and generally, weak solar cycles come in threes. Each known set of sluggish solar cycles in the past has coincided with bitterly cold winters in parts of the globe — especially Europe and North America.

The question is, with the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, would we even feel an extended solar minimum? That’s exactly what Glory will aim to find out.

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