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Sunspot update: December sunspot activity once again higher than predicted

The uncertainty of science: It is time to once again take a look at the state of the Sun’s on-going sunspot cycle. Below is NOAA’s January 1, 2021 monthly graph, documenting the Sun’s monthly sunspot activity and annotated by me to show previous solar cycle predictions.

The ramp up to solar maximum continued in December. Though there was a drop from the very high activity seen in November, the number of sunspots in December still far exceeded the prediction as indicated by the red curve.


December 2020 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community for the previous solar maximum. The green curves show the community’s two original predictions from April 2007 for the previous maximum, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The blue curve is their revised May 2009 prediction. The red curve is the new prediction, first posted by NOAA in April 2020.

The continuing activity in December reaffirms that a new solar maximum is on the way. There will be no grand minimum, at least none for the next dozen years.

What will actually happen? Your guess is as good as mine. It is also likely as good as any solar scientist’s. While the consensus of the solar scientists from NOAA, as indicated by the red curve above, calls for a relatively weak solar maximum, comparable to the weak maximum seen in 2009, their opinion is merely that. Another solar scientist, Scott McIntosh, the deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has instead predicted that the upcoming solar maximum will not only be a strong one, it will be twice as strong as predicted by NOAA’s panel, making it one of the strongest maximums in more than a half century.

Other solar scientists had predicted we would now be entering a grand minimum, a prediction that has now turned out to be mistaken.

What must be made clear about all these predictions is that they are not based on a true understanding of what causes these solar cycles. Scientists know that sunspots are created by the Sun’s magnetic dynamo, but the fundamental reason why the dynamo goes through these cycles is not known. All these predictions are based on extrapolating past activity into the future. More important, all are also based on our limited knowledge of the Sun itself.

So, even the predictions that end up being correct really don’t tell us anything. They are mere guesses, even if educated guesses. To really understand what is going on in the Sun we will need to know a lot more about it and its magnetic dynamo, knowledge that is likely many decades away.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

4 comments

  • Phill O

    “Scientists know that sunspots are created by the Sun’s magnetic dynamo, but the fundamental reason why the dynamo goes through these cycles is not known. All these predictions are based on extrapolating past activity into the future. More important, all are also based on our limited knowledge of the Sun itself.”

    Got that right. What we know from the past is that “things” happen slowly, except when there are things like impacts and volcanic eruptions. So, if we get a higher maximum, it would be expected not to be dramatic.

    This is still a good time for amateurs to buy solar scopes of the H-alpha variety.

  • LocalFluff

    My eye thinks it sees the double top crowning the maximum widening for each cycle. Since 1960 when the double tops coincided to a single peak when at the highest. Widening double tops would flatten the number of sunspots over time. Almost splitting one cycle into two tops with a 4 year low in between. And it would perhaps not be physically inconceivable that solar magnetic activity is governed by multiple cycles that are out of phase with each other.

    But that’s just my eye.
    https://fastly.syfy.com/sites/syfy/files/styles/1720xauto/public/sunspot_number_asof_01dec2020.jpg

  • ML Thomas

    So…. The models are wrong? No way

  • Phill O

    LocalFluff That may just be an influence by Dolly.

    However, that is something to keep an eye on!

    Have started reading “Chilling Stars”. Amazingly, the author writes in a style rather close to how the left in academia write. Many issue I take, but they are in the interpretation of sediments data and the extend of conclusions drawn. We have 400 years of sunspot data and to try to go beyond that gets into the realm of fantasy, not pure science.

    That being said, the arguments against the hockey stick are good, and Mann certainly had his credibility totally shot by his actions at the British Columbia supreme court.

    I am waiting to see how he draws conclusions to the cosmic ray and cloud theory.

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