SCIENCE / MEDICINE : Flu Epidemics Tied to Sunspots

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Sunspots may be the cause of worldwide influenza epidemics (pandemics), British astronomers Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Wales reported last week in Nature. They said that the two events occur in 11-year cycles that are closely synchronized.

Researchers have connected other events, particularly weather, to sunspot cycles before, the noted astronomers wrote, but the relationships usually peter out after a few cycles. But the evidence linking influenza goes back more than two centuries to the first recorded influenza pandemic in 1761, they said.

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have long argued that life arose on Earth when viruses drifting through space entered the planet’s atmosphere. They have also argued that many diseases arise from the same source.

The link to sunspots arises, they speculate, because the increased solar winds during sunspot activity would tend to drive more space-borne viruses into the atmosphere.