Time for my monthly sunspot cycle update, where I take NOAA’s monthly graph showing the long term trends in the Sun’s sunspot activity, and annotate it with additional data to provide some context.
The trend of sunspot activity exceeding the predictions continued in February. While the increase in activity from January still left it less than the activity in December, the total number of sunspots is still far above the number predicted by NOAA’s panel of solar scientists in 2020, with the rise towards a solar maximum also much steeper and far faster than predicted.
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.
In fact, the rise in sunspots from month-to-month since the end of the solar minimum in 2020 has been so steep and fast that it is already halfway to the peaks seen in the last maximum in 2014. While it took about two and a half years to get to this level of activity in 2012, it has taken less than two years to do the same now.
More interesting is the steadiness of the present rise in sunspot activity. During the last ramp up to solar maximum, the month-to-month numbers of sunspots varied quite wildly, varying from 50 to almost 150. The present ramp up however has risen quite smoothly, with only a little up-and-down fluctuation in the sunspot numbers from month to month, ranging generally less than 20.
The continuing high numbers and steady and steep rise once again suggest that the prediction of the 2020 NOAA panel will be far too low, while the outlier prediction of a handful of solar scientists that this maximum will be a very strong one will be right. If so, this story will once again demonstrate that science reality is never determined by consensus, but by the actual facts, which sometimes prove the consensus completely wrong.
None of this is proven yet, however. We must exercise patience and see what the Sun brings us in the next three years. The odds of it surprising us again is quite high, as that has been the pattern of all nature since the first human first tried to figure out how to light that first campfire.
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