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June 23, 2008
Volume 86, Number 25
p. 56


It seems that the SUNSPOTS are late.

Earlier this month, scientists at an international solar conference at Montana State University discussed the fact that the sun’s surface had been devoid of sunspots for the past couple of years, a period when a new cycle of sunspots should have started.

Sunspots: Cold spells decrease sunspot activity.

According to the report on space.com, the last solar cycle peaked in 2002 and next was supposed to show sunspots in 2006, but the first one did not appear until early this year. Solar cycles, associated with the star’s magnetic flux, last roughly 11 years and affect features on the surface of the sun such as solar flares and sunspots.

The present dearth of sunspots is intriguing because there is evidence that during periods of very low sunspot activity, Earth cools. Researchers have linked two periods of minimum sunspot activity in the early-19th century to cold spells, the space.com report states. During an even earlier event, called the Maunder Minimum, there were no sunspots for about 50 years, and it’s associated with the Little Ice Age of the 17th century.

Sun scientists at the Montana conference are quick to point out that there is no reason to panic, the report says. The consensus is that this cycle’s spots are just a little slow in appearing and that since the previous three solar cycles have been very high in flares and sunspots, it isn’t alarming to have a less active cycle occur now. The scientists also speculate that the impact of the solar cycle has less influence on Earth’s climate today than it had centuries ago. More Earthbound events such as the El Niño ocean current, volcanic eruptions, or greenhouse gas accumulations have bigger direct impacts on climate, according to the solar scientists.

The Japanese have begun a huge program against OBESITY. Apparently considering weight gain a serious national problem, the government is requiring checkups of people between the ages of 40 and 74 to guard against the ballooning costs of health care in a nation that is rapidly aging.

The program, which went into effect April 1, is fighting metabolic syndrome or “metabo” (obesity is apparently too negative a word) by first measuring people’s waists. Men with waistlines of 85 cm (just over 33 inches) or more and women with 90-cm (35-inch) waists or greater are categorized as having metabo. Companies are required to have their employees slim down to these standards or face higher payments into the national health insurance program.

Cell Phones: The new microwave ovens?

A growing affinity for Western diets, including fast food and sweets, is blamed for increases in diabetes and risk for heart attacks in Japan. Although some may gripe that a nation with one of the greatest longevity rates in the world does not really have a problem, news reports indicate that companies and the public are cooperating in this effort to get thinner and healthier.

An amusing and amazing YouTube clip that shows a group of friends apparently POPPING POPCORN using their cell phones is, or course, physically impossible.

The clip shows four cell phones all aimed at a few kernels of popcorn that proceed to pop. The combined microwave radiation supposedly emitted by the set of phones is the reason, creating enough heat for the transformation. But as pointed out by more than one physicist, if cell phones emitted that much energy, the water in the fingers of people trying to hold the phones would get very hot and painful.

It turns out that this is not the first cell phone cooking ruse. At least as far back as 2000, items have appeared on the Web about hard-boiling an egg using the emissions from two or more cell phones. This hoax got such widespread notoriety that an industry group, the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, put out information on why this was impossible. The average radio-frequency power of a cell phone is about 0.25 W, MMF said, which is thousands of times less than the energy of the typical microwave.

This week's column was written by David Hanson. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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