Space Science Reviews

, Volume 176, Issue 1–4, pp 59–71 | Cite as

The Heliosphere in Time

  • Ken McCrackenEmail author
  • Juerg Beer
  • Friedhelm Steinhilber
  • Jose Abreu


The paleo-cosmic ray records are used to study the properties of the heliosphere and solar processes over the past 9300 years. They show that both varied greatly over that time, ranging from ∼26 “Grand Minima” of duration 50–100 yr when the Sun was inactive, to periods similar to the past 50 years of strong solar activity. This shows that the detailed information regarding the heliosphere gained during the “space era” represents an extreme case, and is not representative of the majority of the past 9300 yr. The data confirm that the 11 and 22-year cycles of solar activity continued through the Spoerer and Maunder Grand Minima. Throughout the 9300 yr interval, “Grand Minima” usually occurred in groups of 2 to 4, similar to the group of four that occurred in the interval 1000–1800 AD. The groups are separated by ∼1000 yr intervals without Grand Minima. Frequency spectra of the full 9300 yr record show that the heliospheric and solar phenomena exhibit >10 well-defined and persistent periodicities. We speculate that the solar dynamo exhibits a 2300 yr periodicity, wherein it alternates between two different states of activity. In the first (∼800 yr duration) solar activity weakens greatly every 100–200 yr resulting in a sequence of Grand Minima, while in the other, the solar dynamo suffers smaller changes; the centenary scale solar and heliospheric changes are smaller, being similar to those that occurred in the interval 1890–1910. The paleo-cosmic ray evidence suggests that the Sun has now entered this more uniform period of activity, following the sequence of Grand Minima (Wolf, Spoerer, Maunder, and Dalton) that occurred between 1000 and 1800 AD.


Solar physics Paleo cosmic rays Heliospheric magnetic fields Solar Dynamo Cosmic ray modulation 



The research at the University of Maryland was supported by NSF grant ATM 0107181. The support of the International Space Science Institute, of Bern, Switzerland is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ken McCracken
    • 1
    Email author
  • Juerg Beer
    • 2
  • Friedhelm Steinhilber
    • 2
  • Jose Abreu
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Physical Science and TechnologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG)DubendorfSwitzerland

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