Last month the news of our currently very quiet sun reached a non-scientific publication, the Financial Times:
The solar wind – which is comprised of electrically charged particles streaming out from the star – is weaker than at any time since scientists began accurate observations in the 1950s, and the number of sunspots in 2008 may be the lowest since the 19th century.
…no one knows how long the Sun is likely to stay quiet. One extreme would be a continued period of inactivity, with very few sunspots or solar storms, that could last for decades. The last such suspension of the 11-year solar cycle occurred between 1645 and 1715, a period known by historians of astronomy as the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with the coldest period of the past millennium, known as the “little ice age”.
…Others say that, despite the low starting point, the Sun could still build up to an exceptionally intense maximum over the next four years.
Most experts agree that the maximum is most likely going to occur in 2012. According to some, the longer our Sun is quiet, the greater the maximum might be.