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The Sun just completed its longest stretch, 15 days, without sunspots since 2009, suggesting once again that the solar minimum is coming much sooner than expected.
So far this year the Sun has been blank 34% of the time, a pace that makes this year almost as blank as 2009, the year in which the previous solar minimum ended. This suggests that 2017 might be the year in which the next solar minimum begins, which would be about two years earlier than the earliest predictions.
The more likely scenario is that 2018 will be the year the solar minimum begins, with 2019 when solar activity bottoms out. This will still be much earlier than expected, making this solar cycle only about 9-10 years long. What makes this more significant is that historically short cycles always went with high activity, while long cycles signaled an inactive and weak maximum. This cycle will be the first that is both short and weak.
What happens next remains the big question. Will the Sun enter a grand minimum, with no sunspots for decades? Or will sunspot activity continue? Since solar scientists really do not yet understand the mechanism within the sun’s magnetic field that causes this solar cycle, we really can’t answer these questions, in advance. We must wait, and see.