Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
It’s sunspot time again! On Monday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, showing the sunspot activity for the Sun in February. I am once again posting it here, below the fold, with annotations.
Like it did in January, the Sun’s second peak of the solar maximum continued to beat its first peak, an unprecedented event. Though activity dropped slightly, it still remained above prediction and was only slightly below the first peak’s maximum. Overall, the second peak has been much stronger than the first, something that scientists have never seen before. In the past, when the Sun had a double peaked solar maximum, the second peak was always weaker. Not this time!
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.
The second peak in sunspots is the result Sun’s continuing process of flipping its magnetic field polarity, an event that occurs approximately every eleven years. In this particular maximum the northern hemisphere has mostly completed its flip (the first peak), while the southern hemisphere has trailed behind and is only now getting it done (the second peak). See this article for an excellent explanation of this process.
Despite the activity and the unusually strong second peak, it is important to emphasis that this is still a relatively weak solar maximum, the weakest in a hundred years. To show this, look above at how low the numbers are in the second peak compared to the green prediction curve, which was the high prediction made by scientists in April 2007. And even this high prediction still predicted that the maximum would be less than the previous maximum in 2000-2001. The graph below, showing the magnitude of all the solar cycles since Galileo, makes it even clearer:
Why this cycle is behaving as it is remains a pillar of the uncertainty of science. And another illustration of that uncertainty is the effort by the solar scientists at the Marshall Space Flight Center to make believe the data they are recording now is actually their prediction from 2009. As I have documented repeatedly, they keep changing their prediction to match the data, and then make it look like the revised number was their prediction all along by not archiving the earlier predictions. I however get screen captures, and can show that they have essentially been guessing since 2009, with their predictions for the peak sunspot number to have ranged from anywhere between the 59 to 99. You could flip a coin and get as good a prediction.
They have now upped their number again, the third month in a row, from 69 to 70.