Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
It is that time again! Today, March 4, NOAA released its monthly update of the Sun’s sunspot cycle, covering the period of February 2013. As I do every month, I am posting this latest graph, with annotations to give it context, below the fold.
Once again, the Sun has shown a complete inability to produce sunspots, at the very moment it had been predicted to be rising towards its maximum in the sunspot cycle. The numbers in February plunged from the tepid rise we saw in January to below the crash we saw in December. Right now, when the Sun is supposed to peaking, it is instead producing sunspots in numbers as low as seen in 2011, at the very end of the last solar minimum.
For reference, the green curves in the graph show the two original predictions of the solar scientist community from April 2007, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction.
These continuing low numbers have caused the scientists at the Marshall Space Flight center to change their prediction for the solar maximum once again, the sixth time they have done so in the last seven months. With each change they have been steadily lowering their high prediction of 76 from September 2012 to their new prediction of 66, predicted to occur this upcoming fall.
Since January 2012 these scientists have changed their prediction 20 times, with numbers ranging from 59 to 99. That they have changed it again, so close to actual maximum, once again illustrates how much a guess this so-called prediction really has been all along.
Meanwhile, other solar scientists are trying to explain the Sun’s weakness now by suggesting that the Sun’s maximum might actually be double-peaked, with the first peak having occurred back in late 2011 and the second peak upcoming later this year. Maybe so, but they are only basing this prediction on past solar cycles, not on any basic knowledge of how the sun works. For all we know, the Sun hit its maximum more than a year ago, and is now ramping down to another solar minimum.
As I have noted every month on this webpage since 2011 as well as on John Batchelor and in my writing for Sky & Telescope since 2009, the Sun is not behaving as expected. Instead, it is acting as if it is losing the ability to produce sunspots and is heading for its first Grand Minimum since the 1600s — a multi-decade-long period when no sunspots are produced. Nor is this just my opinion. A considerable number of solar scientists have also come to this conclusion.
Watching the Sun behave over the next few years should be quite interesting. And watch the climate too! In the past, a Sun without sunspots has always been accompanied by a climate that has cooled, significantly.