Why Is The Sun Getting Dimmer?

The sun seems to have broken out of its traditional 11-year cycle, and in the process, made scientists suspicious by being just a little too relaxed and uneventful recently. What's going on?

According to scientists, the sun is the dimmest it's been in almost a century... and just as uneventful, with last year - predicted to have been a year where it heated again after a quiet period - offering up a 50-year low in solar wind pressure, a 55-year low in radio emissions, and a 100-year low in sunspot activity. But, according to Professor Mike Lockwood of the UK's Southampton University, this may just be the continuation of a trend that's been happening for some time:

If you look carefully at the observations, it's pretty clear that the underlying level of the Sun peaked at about 1985 and what we are seeing is a continuation of a downward trend (in solar activity) that's been going on for a couple of decades.

But what caused this? And should we be worried about it? The BBC points to a similar quiet spell from the 1600s called the "Maunder Minimum" that lasted around 70 years and brought about a mini-ice age, but Lockwood dismisses such comparisons:

We are re-entering the middle ground after a period which has seen the Sun in its top 10% of activity... We would expect it to be more than 100 years before we get down to the levels of the Maunder Minimum.

Me, I'm convinced that we'll soon see that it's all because of something that happened when Sam flew the colonial fleet into the sun millions of years ago. It's all the cylons' fault really.

'Quiet Sun' baffling astronomers [BBC News]