There are certainly lifeforms on Earth paying no heed whatsoever to the sun.
Some are huddled about volcanic chimneys in the oceanic deep, making a living utilizing the heat and nutrients spewing from thermal vents.
More than a few biologists believe the true abode of most life on Earth might be found in an even more remote and arcane locale — miles beneath the planet’s exterior.
It's conjectured that the yet to be catalogued species of microorganisms living at astounding depths below ground and deriving their energy from the mineral compounds within which they thrive, are so abundant that they account for more biomass than all the living creatures of Earth’s surface combined.
For the plants and animals which flourish above ground though it is the sun on which life is dependant.
The sun feeds humanity and does so through a food chain providing the bounty arriving at our tables, starting with the great synthesizer of planetary food: solar photosynthesis.
Sunlight powering the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into sugars is the base of the pyramid nourishing all terrestrial surface life.
Food, light, warmth and almost every important aspect of sustenance for flora and fauna depends on Sol.
Not only does the solar wind ward off excessive cosmic ray bombardment from space but the sun enables our bodies’ creation of vitamin D, boosts serotonin levels, helping to prevent and/or ease a number of maladies from multiple sclerosis to dental cavities and skin disorders.
It has another less nurturing side however, its ever-changing sunspots oblivious to the fate of life on the planet in its habitable zone.
The sun is classified as a mildly variable star meaning that its power output waxes and wanes through the ages. Its sunspot cycle seems intimately connected with changes in the intensity of energy streaming from the star.
Tremendous shifts in climate have been engendered by this variability in solar output.
The most well-known case in point, the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715), a period of greatly reduced sunspot activity, is associated with the most bitterly cold decades of the little ice age.
On the other hand, extreme sunspot activity doesn’t bode well either.
Solar storms in the recent past have caused severe effects — burning out telegraph, telephone, and cable infrastructure globally.
The 1989 solar storm that Quebec experienced caused the power grid to collapse entirely. Six million were cast into the dark during the middle of winter.
There may be even more deadly possible repercussions on Earth during heightened solar phases. The next great flu epidemic, for example, may have its genesis on the sun.
During sunspot cycles the visible light output production of the sun isn’t dramatically increased but another frequency of electromagnetic energy is — ultraviolet (UV) light.
UV radiation is one of the principal causes of mutations.
In the past botanists eager to produce improved strains of crops used to irradiate yearly batches of seeds hoping to induce some beneficial genetic change. Most seeds were destroyed by the rough usage and some were changed for the worse. There were those few instances, however, of newly-created mutant plants which grew quicker, stronger, more resistant to blights, etc.
The sun’s naturally increased beams of UV light during sunspot episodes irradiate seeds and influenza bacteria as well. Mutant variants of the flu — slightly changed genetically and therefore unrecognizable to human antibodies and vaccines which held previous versions in check — could be, and may already have been, a nightmare scenario.
Six of the eight great flu epidemics of the 20th century occurred contemporaneously with intense sunspot activity. The best known of these incidents, the history-changing pandemic of 1918, came hard on the heels of a 1917 sunspot spike.
This horrific global catastrophe infected half a billion people — a third of humanity’s population. Within months some 30 to 50 million victims were swept, including 675,000 Americans. Only the Black Death of the 14th century rivals the calamity of what the flu wreaked exactly one century ago
Solar maximums — cycling roughly every 11 years and characterized by large numbers of sunspots and increased energy output — aren’t that easy to predict however.
NASA itself was stymied by the last one.
It was thought that the most recent maximum was to transpire in 2011 and that it would be the most potent since 1958. It took place three years late, in 2014, and was ranked among the weakest ever recorded.
The next solar maximum is forecast for 2024. Red-tipped tube worms living on the ocean floor and lithoautotrophes eking out an existence kilometers underground won’t be affected one way or the other. We can all hope though that the flu shots for 2025 still will do the trick.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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