Sunspots crash in February

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.

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NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in February. As I have done monthly for the past five years, I am posting it here below the fold, with annotations to give it context.

In the past two months I have noted how the ramp down from solar maximum has closely tracked the 2009 prediction of the solar scientist community (indicated by the red curve).

In February, however, that close tracking ended, with sunspots plunging far below the prediction. Note also that sunspot activity in March has also been weak.

February 2015 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.

Historically the ramp down from solar maximum is slower than the ramp up. You can see this if you look closely at the red and green prediction curves, which are steeper on the upside but more stretched out on the downside. The activity now, however, suggests a faster ramp down than normal, though no one should be surprised if activity increases again and offsets this period of low activity. To find out what will happen we will just have to wait and see. At the moment the solar scientists really don’t understand the reasons why sunspot activity itself has remained so low beginning with the solar minimum in 2009.

I want to add a thank you to the people who run the NOAA website. In upgrading their website for NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, they had initially left out the old links to the press releases for the 2007 and 2009 predictions. I had emailed them about this, and Brent Gordon of their website team responded, making sure that these press releases were once again on line and available to the public.


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  • Lawrence Stoskopf N0UU

    Amazing how this data doesn’t agree with the radio propagation during last weekend’s ARRL DX Amateur Radio Contest. The high bands which depend upon sunspots were quiet and very productive. Stations worldwide were easily workable during expected propagation paths. The 28 MHz band was open for extended periods. These conditions won’t be back for quite a few years if the SS progression continues as plotted.

    Thanks for your coverage of this topic.

  • I should clarify that even though sunspot activity has been weak, sunspots have still been present. It is only weak relative to past solar cycles.

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