Astronomers discover a solar twin whose sunspot cycle changed into a grand minimum

Astronomers studying the sunspot cycle of several dozen stars that are twins of our Sun have identified for the first time a star whose 17-year cycle suddenly ceased, going into an extended grand minimum.

Comparing these stars to the Sun enables astronomers to better determine how typical – or not – the Sun is as a star. The Sun’s magnetic activity is defined by its 11-year sunspot cycle. Of the 59 stars that Baum’s team surveyed, 29 appeared to also have starspot cycles, and the period of those cycles could be measured for 14 of them.

“Of these 14 stars, the average length of their cycle is just under 10 years, which is similar to the Sun’s 11-year cycle,” Baum tells Physics World. However, not all the stars adhered to this time frame. One star that was surveyed has a cycle lasting less than four years, while another star, HD 166620, had a cycle 17 years long.

Note the past tense. Sometime between 1995 and 2004, HD 166620’s starspot cycle simply stopped.

When or if the star’s sunspot activity resume is unknown. The Sun’s last grand minimum, dubbed the Maunder Minimum, lasted 70 years during the 1600s.

No one yet understands why stars do this. This discovery however now shows that the Sun is not unique in this behavior.