Sunspot update for October 2017


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NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for October. That graph is posted below, with annotations.

October 2017 Solar Cycle graph

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions 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.

After two straight months of rising sunspot activity, the number of sunspots plunged in October, returning the numbers almost exactly back to the general trend we have seen since 2014 when the solar maximum ended. While the short two month increase indicated that the minimum will not occur as soon as this long term trend suggests, the quick return to that trend this month suggests that it will.

Meanwhile, November is six days old and has yet to see any sunspots at all.

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6 comments

  • LocalFluff

    These monthly updates of the Sun’s decadal curve’s whims. They might only very slowly add up to something.

    The Sun is so unfathomably huge, it is a thousand of Earths in diameter. It is a rare astronomical object, most stars in the universe have less mass and volume. All other stars are just dots. Here we have one of these huge speciment to examine at close range. A “dot” in the sky nearby. I think that helioscience is waaay under-prioritized. The Sun should be up there together with Xi and Kim on the US agenda.

    The idea of building a colony on the surfaces of the Moon or on Mars is exciting, but it perhaps doesn’t address the most urgent question in our lifetime. The Sun. What is it? What does it do? Any look at the sky any day, would convince anybody that this is what is important. (Damn it, there’s a Sun in the sky!)

  • Phill O

    LocalFluff
    “The idea of building a colony on the surfaces of the Moon or on Mars is exciting, but it perhaps doesn’t address the most urgent question in our lifetime. The Sun.”

    I tend to agree with you. Consider the amount of money spent on the AGW model for climate change. Here is my question: “What would we now know about Solar Dynamics and its impact on the planets if that money had been spent on solar research?” I know there is good work being done, but when one puts a large portion of the scientific community to investigate, it would be amazing what is found.

    One problem is that no one can make big money pushing a “green” industry. Also, there is a requirement for tremendous brain power unlike some of the softer (environmental) sciences.

    The current administration seems to be dealing with the problem as (BZ has noted) through choosing advisory committee comprised of people who do not have a financial stake in the funding allocation.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “I think that helioscience is waaay under-prioritized.

    Maybe, but we are doing quite a bit of study already. The following page has a list of satellites that are studying the sun:
    http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Solar_Satellites

    Way back when, I did a little work on the Soft X-Ray Telescope on the Yohkoh satellite and some work on the x-ray telescopes that are mounted to the current GOES satellites’ solar array yokes (always pointing toward the sun). The previous GOES satellites also had similar solar telescopes.

    I am not sure that we are much lacking in current observations, but we do seem to be having a difficult time determining exactly what is going on, most likely due to the lack of long-term observations. Robert continually alludes to the difficulty in understanding the detailed physics that result in long-term solar activity. We think that we are approaching another sun-spot Maunder Minimum, but we are not sure.

    Solar astrophysicists also failed to confirm a recent favorite hypothesis that combination of different solar magnetic arches throws hot plasma into the corona, warming it to temperatures much hotter than the surface where the magnetic arches originated. It seems that there just isn’t enough of this activity to supply enough energy to account for the corona’s high temperature.

    There are quite a number of people and laboratories studying the sun, but we seem to need longer observations in order to really understand its processes. Maybe higher funding rates will help, but I am not convinced that throwing too much more money at this research will quicken the pace of our understanding.

  • Phill O

    Edward, we are studying the known unknowns to a great extent as you point out. There are unknown unknowns which might come to light with different approaches. And yes, there is brain power needed.

  • LocalFluff

    @Edward
    Great! I’m just an armchair astronaut, well aware that armchairs are completely useless in microgravity, who plays out what knowledgeable people say against each other.

    The Sun is such a huge object. Its diameter is 1% of our distance to it, that’s “close” by some standard. And we are living in the Sun’s atmosphere, it hasn’t got any distinct border, other than in competition with other stars’ winds. If there aren’t good ideas about how to observe it to figure something out, then that’s very bad news.

    Maybe a probe could fly through the transition region between the photosphere and the mysterious corona. Magnetic field, temperature, plasma density and pressure, gravity concentrations could be measured even from inside of a cryocooled heat shield.

    Our interstellar neighborhood looks very lucky for stellar research. Statistically they should all have been red dwarfs. Nearest of them all is indeed a red dwarf, something between Jupiter and the Sun, and two Sun-like stars. Next is a brown dwarf binary. And Sirius’ exotic white dwarf is also one of the nearest things in space. Sirius itself is a rather unusually large star. We have a wide range of star types available for study just around the corner here in space. I would consider Juno more of a Solar mission than a planetary mission. “Planet” really means a rock where we mice can dig in to protect ourselves from the violent strangeness out there.

  • Edward

    Phill O wrote: “And yes, there is brain power needed.

    Even though there are a few hypotheses running around, maybe we could use a few more.

    LocalFluff wrote: “armchairs are completely useless in microgravity

    Yeah, and that makes them heavier than they are worth in microgravity.

    LocalFluff wrote: “it hasn’t got any distinct border

    Neither does Earth’s atmosphere. We have defined space by an arbitrary height, rather than density, and there is still considerable drag to orbiting satellites at that height. Go figure. I guess it is a problem of defining the indefinable.

    LocalFluff wrote: “‘Planet’ really means a rock where we mice can dig in to protect ourselves from the violent strangeness out there.

    Well, that is an interesting way to look at it. Anyone building an O’Neill style space colony may even agree with you.

    At the risk of deviating from sunspots, I have noticed that very few people have been talking seriously about colonies in space, the past two or three decades. This is probably because they are projects that make going to Mars look cheap, quick, and easy. Even the original Stanford Taurus version (far smaller than the O’Neill Cylinder) would be quite an undertaking.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_torus#Construction
    The torus would require nearly 10 million tons of mass.

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