With all the talk about climate change and rising temperatures, it might be hard to imagine a "Little Ice Age" in the future. But NASA's forecast for solar activity over the next decade could mean we're in store for a cool-down.
The sun develops spots that are about the size of earth, and they change in intensity and number over time.
According to NASA, these sunspots provide a standard gauge of solar activity. That activity rises and falls in 11-year cycles. The next one begins this year, and the current forecast calls for the weakest solar activity in the last 200 years.
Astrophysicist Dr. Jeff Zweerink of "Reasons to Believe" spoke with CBN News about the correlation between sunspots and weather on Earth.
"If it continues to drop, one thing we do know is that sunspots, they look like dark spots on the sun, so you'd initially think, 'Oh, maybe that's because there's less radiation given off'," he said.
"It turns out because of the magnetic fields going on in there, the sunspots actually emit more radiation. And so if there are fewer sunspots, we're receiving less sunlight from the sun," Zweerink continued.
"And so you would expect to see a continual decline in temperatures – that things might get colder over the next 10 or 15 years," he said.
According to The New American, more and more scientists believe this lower solar cycle could spark a lengthy period of minimum solar activity leading to cooler temperatures on Earth.
It's happened before. From the mid-1600s to the early 1700s, the sun experienced a period of low solar activity known as the Maunder Minimum. It corresponded to a time on Earth known as the "Little Ice Age."
"We know from historical records, and these are very early observations of the sun, that there were very few of these sunspots for very long periods, from about 1650 until 1715," Dr. Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen of the Danish Space Institute told CBN News.
"And this particular period of low solar activity also correlates with a period where the climate at least in most of Europe and other places of the world was very cold," he continued.
"So what they noticed is primarily in Europe, where they were taking a lot of these measurements, what they found is that the temperatures were really cold," said Zweerink.
It was also very cold in North America. Colonial art often shows deep snows and ice-filled rivers during the winters.
Zweerink says the bottom line is if the sunspot activity continues to drop off as expected, we're going to experience cooler weather for a while.