Extended solar minimum linked to changes in Sun’s conveyor belt

The new NCAR analysis suggests that one reason for the long cycle could be changes in the Sun’s conveyor belt. Just as Earth’s global ocean circulation transports water and heat around the planet, the Sun has a conveyor belt in which plasma flows along the surface toward the poles, sinks, and returns toward the equator, transporting magnetic flux along the way.

“The key for explaining the long duration of cycle 23 with our dynamo model is the observation of an unusually long conveyor belt during this cycle,” Dikpati says. “Conveyor belt theory indicates that shorter belts, such as observed in cycle 22, should be more common in the Sun.”

BOULDER—A new analysis of the unusually long solar cycle that ended in 2008 suggests that one reason for the long cycle could be a stretching of the Sun’s conveyor belt, a current of plasma that circulates between the Sun’s equator and its poles. The results should help scientists better understand the factors controlling the timing of solar cycles and could lead to better predictions.

In their paper, Dikpati, Gilman, and de Toma used simulations to model how the solar plasma conveyor belt affected the solar cycle. The authors found that the longer conveyor belt and slower return flow could have caused the longer duration of cycle 23.