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Sunspot update: The Sun blasts off!

Over the weekend NOAA posted its monthly update to its graph showing the long term trends in the Sun’s sunspot activity. As I do every month, I have posted that graph below, annotated to show the previous solar cycle predictions and thus provide context.

In December the Sun’s sunspot activity not only continued the pattern of the past two years — whereby sunspot activity has consistently exceeded the prediction of NOAA’s solar scientist panel — the amount of activity shot up like a rocket. December 2021 saw the most sunspots in a single month since September 2015, when the Sun was about a third of the way into its ramp down from the solar maximum in 2014.

December 2021 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.

At the pace solar activity has been increasing in the past two years, the Sun will reach the predicted maximum in 2024, a year and a half earlier than predicted. Based on observations of the solar cycle for the past two centuries, it is unlikely that maximum will be reached at that point and that the activity will begin to decline. Except for the last solar cycle, short cycles have routinely been linked to high activity. The fast ramp up towards the next maximum suggests that sunspot activity will continue to increase, and that next maximum will be a high one, as predicted in December 2020 by small group of dissenting scientists.

Does that mean that dissenting group really knows what is going on? Not on your life. The solar scientist community makes these predictions based on past behavior, not on any fundamental understanding of the underlying processes in the Sun’s magnetic dynamo that cause the cycles of sunspot activity.

In other words, they are generally guessing, based on knowledge of only superficial data. This is why they could not initially agree on a consensus prediction for the last maximum in 2007, and only reached a consensus in 2009 when the ramp up to maximum was underway. At that moment their prediction was like betting on a horse race after the horses have left the starting gate and have already completed the first turn. Of course your bet is going to more likely right.

Except that even their 2009 prediction was wrong, overstating significantly the amount of activity at maximum, and missing entirely the unprecedented double peaked maximum with the second peak greater than the first.

The same thing happened in 2020, when NOAA’s panel of twelve scientists predicted a weak maximum, while a smaller group of dissenters predicted a strong maximum. There was no real consensus, and even if there had been, it would not have proved anything, as any consensus could have been wrong as well.

What the Sun is really telling us by its recent behavior is that we do not understand it. And it is likely that it will take many more decades, possibly centuries, before we do, since the fundamental causes of the Sun’s behavior take many centuries to unfold. Remember, this is a star with a lifespan of billions of years. We have only been studying it with any precision now for a little more than 40 years. It would be the height of arrogance to claim any real knowledge with such a small database.

One last point that bears repeating. In my November 2021 update, I predicted that the higher than expected sunspot activity might cause a rise in the Earth’s global temperature. I hold to that prediction, but want to once again quote this important caveat:

Global warming activists will loudly claim that this rise [in temperature] was caused by human activity, and that everyone (but them) must stop using cars and airplanes and fossil fuels to save the planet, even though they will not really know if the two are connected.

It is important to note that I am not doing a similar thing, claiming that the rise in temperatures is definitely linked to higher solar activity. Just as global warming activists have no idea why the temperature rises, neither do I. All I am noting is that changes in solar activity has matched changes in the global temperature, and if we really want to find out what causes those temperature changes, we need to consider all possibilities.

Right now, too many climate scientists dismiss the possible contribution of the Sun. And for them to do good and trustworthy science, they need to stop doing that.

Conscious Choice cover

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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  • LocalFulff

    A naive prediction by eye, is that the double-top that has widen during recent cycles (years 2012 and 2014½ last time) will widen even more. Thus this rush to the first of the double top of this cycle. 3 years later the second top will be reached. And this double topping seems to smooth out the cycle as a whole. As with two waves that are no longer in sync to enforce each other, but rather dip and top against each other.

    So that would predict an early high, a half dip, then 3 years later another high, then this cycle goes down to its 11 years bottom. And the maximum of this cycle would be lower than the last one’s. That’s just my visual impression of recent Solar cycle graphs, anyway. I have no idea in terms of physics that could cause that! The Sun is spherical and rings like a bell. And it is being tolled by two factors that are falling out of sync with each other.

  • LocalFluff: You know of course that you are doing exactly what the solar scientists do, which makes your prediction as reliable as all of theirs.

  • Phill O

    The time required for a photon from the fusion (in the core) is (I believe) on the order of millennia.

    What bout the time required for magnetic fields to propagate? I do not remember that part of physics.

  • LocalFulff

    @Robert ZSimmerman
    I hope they do a “bit” more than that! I’m just making an occular inspection of the plotted curve. And I see a trend, albeit a trend of two waves diverging. I’m pretty sure that any heliophysicist sees the same, but has physical contexts to put it through.

    Those plotted predicting curves have no relation to physics, that I know of. They are purely statistical. They are derived from previously recorded data. They differ only because of how many previous waves they use to extrapolate the trend. Who knows? One popular theory is that the Sun has no theory beyond the obvious 11 years. Its internal noise erases any long term cycles. And let’s hope that is true, (which there are good reasons to do), because if the Sun has periods of a million bad years now and then, that’s no good for us here. Let’s hope it’s just two slightly out of syn cycles interfering each others that cause the variations in Solar cycles.

    And more seriously this as an argument for double tops going out of sync as a general phenomenon. As on wigs in the Royal Court of Versailles in the 18th century:

    But I have gambled a prediction, so lets see next decade how wrong or right my gamble happened to turn out! (Not that it explains anything either way, but a bet is a bet).

  • LocalFulff

    “One popular theory is that the Sun has no theory beyond the obvious 11 years. ”
    Should be:
    “One popular theory is that the Sun has no MEMORY beyond the obvious 11 years.”

    If that makes my post above any the less incomprehensible.
    Then I might add that we have the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert!

  • Steve Richter

    Are there detectors in Earth orbit which measure the amount of energy that the Sun is putting out at any point in time? Would that measurement vary from day to day, year to year? Would the variation of solar energy output coincide with the sun spot cycle?

  • Steve Richter: Yes. Since 1978 satellites have measured the Sun’s total flux across most wavelengths, though that data is not complete. The data shows that in optical the sun varies by 0.01% (I think from memory) across the sunspot cycle, while other wavelength vary more, such as UV which varies by as much as 50%.

    The data however is incomplete, and covers a woefully short span.

  • Phill O

    Here is a link to the sun for Jan 4 2022.

    As with Dec( there were at least 2 days), there are no sunspots. This may be rare during this time of ramp-up.

    Everything indicates the predicted curve needed to be somewhat earlier.

  • Seymour Spötz

    Wow! These predictions are so low. This trending is definitely pointing north of 150 sunspots, if not closer to 175.

    Am I a heliophysicist now?

  • BLSinSC

    An easy experiment to determine the sun’s ability to affect warming would be to simply stand in your yard or a non-busy roadway (for democrats) and hold an opened umbrella over your head! Now REMOVE the umbrella and feel the heat! That is warming caused by the sun! Now the intensity of the heat is due to the sunspot activity! More sunspots result in more heat being radiated outwards! It’s similar to throwing another log on the fire – more heat! I don’t think it’s that hard to understand and shouldn’t be that hard to prove by using past temps and past sunspot activity. BUT, that wouldn’t suffice for the “Globull Worming” crowd!

  • MadRocketSci

    Pity the dataset only looks like it goes back to 2005 (though I imagine earlier data exists. We’ve been looking at the sun closely since at least the Apollo program.)

    I’ve been looking at historical weather station data (NOAA Global Summary of Day for various rural stations, Farmers Almanac, etc): Notice a very rough periodic set of “cold years” among broader “hot years”, and would like to make an overlay at some point.

  • MadRocketSci

    Nevermind, found the earlier data. Now I have a different question: Why is the data from the 1750s on the same scale, with the same period, and showing the same trend as modern data collected by electronic instruments? Eyeballs through dark glass couldn’t *possibly* see what we see with a CCD and a proper filter!

  • Erdos

    I kept meaning to post this link back when you wrote this. It’s something I check on a regular basis. Their prediction models seem to be moderately accurate so far.

  • wayne

    I must inquire….. do you have a number?

    Erdos Numbers: A mathematical example of ‘small world’ networks –
    John Barrow Gresham College 2010

  • Erdos


    I suppose if I were to publish with a friend of mine, it would give me an Erdos number of 3. Maybe I should look into that just for the bragging rights. His area of specialty isn’t something I know much about though.

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