Sun mysteriously goes all quiet just when its activity should be highest

Sun mysteriously goes all quiet just when its activity should be highest

Almost every measure of solar activity flatlined recently. The event, though not unprecedented, is odd considering that our local star has just passed what is supposed to be the peak of its solar cycle, when activity is at its highest.

“It really underscores this solar cycle playing out as being pretty benign,” said Robert Rutledge, lead of the forecast office at the Noaa/National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Centre. “This has been by any measure a really pretty quiet cycle, and I think we shouldn’t expect the second half to be any different.”

 

The sun goes through a natural 11-year variation called the solar cycle. Periods of high activity generally coincide with increased numbers of sunspots and energetic bursts such as flares and coronal mass ejections. Before it started, scientists’ predictions for this solar cycle ranged from very eventful to rather lacklustre.

“Quite frankly, we’re not very good at solar cycle predictions,” said Rutledge. 

Considering that this solar cycle is the weakest in more than a century, some researchers are already predicting that it could be the start of an ebb in overall activity, with several more low cycles ahead. The website spaceweather.com, which monitors the sun’s activity, also suggested that this lull could signal a double-peaked solar cycle whose valley we are currently experiencing. But Rutledge pointed out that our fundamental understanding of how the sun works is still incomplete. The sun could remain quiet or an uptick in activity, including the possibility of extreme space weather, could come at any time. 

This recent low activity is within the variation that the sun normally experiences and scientists don’t really know what its underlying cause might be. A particular snow storm on Earth can be attributed to moving weather fronts, said Rutledge, but we don’t have that detailed of an understanding of what drives changes on the sun. Within a week or so, solar activity should return to normal.

This story originally appeared on Wired.com

Bank of America goes to trial over U.S. mortgage fraud charges

Bank of America goes to trial over U.S. mortgage fraud charges

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK |          Mon Sep 23, 2013 2:45pm EDT        

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bank of America Corp heads to trial this week over allegations its Countrywide unit approved deficient home loans in a process called “Hustle,” defrauding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. government enterprises that underwrite mortgages.

In what would be the government’s first financial crisis case to go to trial against a major bank over defective mortgages, jury selection is set to begin in federal court in New York on Tuesday, barring a last-minute settlement.

The trial is also a reminder of the billions of dollars in legal liabilities Bank of America has incurred as a result of its 2008 acquisition of Countrywide Financial Corp, which became a poster child of the mortgage meltdown.

The U.S. Justice Department filed the civil lawsuit in 2012, blaming the bank for more than $1 billion in losses to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which bought mortgages that later defaulted. Since then, new evidence and pre-trial rulings by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff have pared the case back.

Bank of America has said the lawsuit’s claims are “simply false” and that it “can’t be expected to compensate every entity that claims losses that actually were caused by the economic downturn.”

A spokesman for the bank declined comment ahead of the trial, which is expected to last five weeks.