The Unexpected Mid-life Crisis of the Sun
Dr. Travis Metcalfe, Space Sciences Institute
After decades of effort, the solar activity cycle is exceptionally well characterized but it remains poorly understood. Pioneering work at the Mount Wilson Observatory demonstrated that other sun-like stars also show regular activity cycles, and suggested two possible relationships between the rotation rate and the length of the cycle. Neither of these relationships correctly describe the properties of the Sun, a peculiarity that demands explanation. Recent discoveries have started to shed light on this issue, suggesting that the Sun’s rotation rate and magnetic field are currently in a transitional phase that occurs in all middle-aged stars. We have recently identified the manifestation of this magnetic transition in the best available data on stellar cycles. The results suggest that the solar cycle may be growing longer on stellar evolutionary timescales, and that the cycle might disappear sometime in the next 0.8-2.4 Gyr. Future tests of this hypothesis will come from ground-based activity monitoring of Kepler targets that span the magnetic transition, and from asteroseismology with the TESS mission to determine precise masses and ages for bright stars with known cycles.