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The sunspot count in August demonstrates fully the utter uncertainty of science

In doing these sunspot updates every month since I started Behind the Black thirteen years ago, one of the repeated common themes has been noting how little we really know about the basic fundamental processes within the Sun. We know the process involves nuclear fusion combined with fission, and that process also creates a powerful magnetic field that every eleven years flips in its polarity. We also know that this eleven year cycle corresponds to an eleven year cycle of rising and then falling sunspot activity.

The devil however is in the details, and we know very little about those details. How those larger processes link to the specific changing features on the Sun remains little understood, if at all. The sudden and entirely unexpected steep drop in sunspot activity in August, as noted in the release yesterday of NOAA’s monthly update of its graph that tracks the number of sunspots on the Sun’s Earth-facing hemisphere, demonstrates this level of ignorance quite starkly.

August 2023 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.

Last month I noted how the Sun’s sunspot activity in July had maintained the high levels since the start of the ramp up to solar maximum, expected in 2025. Noting how the activity in June and July was the most we had seen since 2014, I speculated as follows:

How much higher can solar activity go? Quite a lot, based on the long term solar cycle graph at the bottom of the first graph above. The 1958 solar maximum produced about twice as many sunspots as we have saw in the weak maximum in 2014. The high activity right now is only a little higher than the highest numbers from that 2014 maximum, so history says the sunspot count certainly go up quite a bit before this next maximum is reached.

It could even go up so high that NOAA (and I) will have to increase the Y-axis of the graph, increasing its top number to as much as 300.

So much for that speculation. The steep drop in activity in August instead suggests that we might possibly have reached solar maximum, and will now see several years of up and down fluctuations (as happened during the past maximum), but no great increase matching the past high maximums from the 20th century.

Or maybe not. We really have no idea what the Sun intends to do in the coming years. Sunspot activity could still rise to past highs, or it might have decided to stabilize roughly where it is now. Your guess is as good as mine, and, to be blunt, it is only slightly less worthwhile than the guesses of the scientists in the solar science community.

So what have we actually learned? I can say unequivocally that the drop in activity in August provides very little information for solving the fundamental problems I described earlier. All we know is that sunspot activity dropped, but why remains unknown.

What we have once again learned however is that science is uncertain, that skepticism is the only certain thing, and that anyone who says they have the answer should be looked at with great askance. They might be right, but doubt is the watchword, because until you have done endless research over many decades, the truth might still remain hidden from you.

Or to put it more elegantly, I think it worthwhile to remind all of the words of Francis Bacon, whose writings in the 1600s, in parallel with Newton, helped usher in the Age of Enlightenment.

Truth is to be sought for, not in the felicity of any age which is an unstable thing, but in the light of nature and experience, which is eternal. . . . Let every student of nature take this as a rule — that whatever his mind seizes and dwells upon with peculiar satisfaction is be held in suspicion. [Novum Organum, sections 56 and 58]

We must remind ourselves repeatedly, we might be wrong, we might be wrong, we might be wrong. Under that mantra, we might also create the possibility of learning what is right.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Joe

    This is why the models used for climate are unreliable. They don’t take into account the Sun’s activities. How do sunspots correspond to Coronal Mass Ejections and their interactions with volatiles in out atmosphere? Since we don’t really know, it is easier to just zero it out than to include yet another speculation.

    If your model drift from reality, your model is wrong.

  • Robert Pratt

    Patterns appear all through creation; we latch onto that. But chaos and randomness exist too. I think it arrogant that we believe we can eventually make sense of, and find predictability, in all. The effort is worthwhile but expectations are often folly.

  • Phill O

    The current data for September Might indicate a further drop in sunspot activity.

    All I can say is it is interesting!

  • wayne

    đź“ś A Petition –
    Frédéric Bastiat
    “Candlestick makers’ Petition”

    “From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting.
    To: the Honorable Members of the Chamber of Deputies.”

  • Max

    Science is all about observation, experimentation, verification by others (regardless of nationality, skin color, religion, political aspirations) who get the same results.

    All too often people have science certainties based on politics, agenda, free money… so they build a computer model to verify their conclusions. (remember the hockey stick?) Recent world politics have determined that this is the norm rather than the exception. Lies are so common that no one watches the news anymore, you look up the fact checkers and believe the opposite…. they’re constantly asking for your trust, even though like Lucy yanking the football before Charlie can kick it, they always let us down. telling you that “only they have the truth”, that you cannot believe you’re lying eyes.
    (like the usually cool summer, using my heater several times In August, or the new snow in the mountains today)

    Solar heating is rather constant, the suns radiance varies less than 1%. That’s why we look to other factors that govern a climate. While theologians will talk about a mythical greenhouse that can’t be seen or measured, in a chicken little “the sky is falling” narrative… large anomalies, that must be considered, are completely ignored.

    The weight of the atmosphere creates friction/heat at the bottom of the air column. (ideal gas law) this is the cause of the largest known temperature changes in our atmosphere and yet the chinook wind affect is in none of the climate models. (When air flows over the Sierra Mountains, it heats up 5.4° for every thousand feet creating a desert on the other side… When a plane or a weather balloon goes up it also cools 5.4° Per thousand feet depending on the humidity where ever you are on earth)
    That’s why the earth is 100° warmer than the moon which is also in the “green zone”, despite 150° of temperature in space, never reaching the planet… In fact it doesn’t even reach the upper atmosphere which is far below zero. How much energy does the sun warm the earth each day? Subtract the low the night from the high of the day and that’s it. (even Antarctica, after six months of darkness only warms 30° with 24 hour sunlight in its summer) And think the global warming people are so worried about 2° warmer planet… When we experience about 100° difference from summer to winter.
    Logic and science fails when everyone believes the fantasy.

    How many billions and billions of dollars have they extracted from this obvious lie? How many rights and freedoms have been lost? Why are they doing it? just for money? The power? Or just because they can… What is next? Perhaps witch burning begins… as long as fear is maintained, they will rule.

  • BLSinSC

    Sunspot activity seems to follow a pattern of 9 to 11 years! Anyone who has ever ventured outside in THE SUMMER knows the sunlight FEELS hotter than during THE WINTER! Why hasn’t someone put all this together to show the sunspots, the temps, the EARTH’S DISTANCE FROM THE SUN, and the Historical Trends?? Maybe they have and I haven’t seen that article.

    Has anyone looked at sunspots vs HURRICANES? Any reason why we have “Hurricane Season”?

    OH, and ONE correlation I’d really like to see is the MOVEMENT for “CLIMATE” vs the FUNDING of the MOVEMENT for “CLIMATE”!!

    I find this site to be VERY informative without passing “judgement”! Thank You for doing this!!

  • I’m wondering just how much the Canadian fires affected the current temps – surely, the hazy skies we’ve been seeing since mid-April could have affected the heat that got through. Wouldn’t have affected the sunspots, but maybe the current temperatures.
    Changes in incoming heat energy WILL affect the wind currents, which WILL affect the ocean currents. So, POSSIBLY the cyclonic activity.
    I would have liked to see a more vigorous ‘up’ cycle, as a radio operator. It presents a new set of challenges to communication.

  • Lee S

    As Bob correctly points out…. Basically whe understand next to nothing about the solar cycle.. and even less about its effects on our planet… (I still believe that erring on the side of reducing greenhouse gases can’t be a bad thing in the long run…. I would hate to leave a broken climate for my children… Trying to keep the chances of this as close to zero as possible seems like the only rational thing to do.)

    It does annoy me tho when posters INSIST ON SHOUTING. As my kids were told at junior school.. ” polite conversation is held in small letters” ….

  • Phill O

    Linda S Fox

    Alberta, close to the Rockies, has had a slightly cooler summer and the earliest frost I have ever experienced; hit the vines plants a bit but not an outright kill.

    Today it may be the heaviest smoke yet, but that is hard to judge due to the extreme smoke.

    Other areas seem to be having a hot summer. Climate (an overall average of local conditions) might even out as average temperature for the Year.

    I am re-posting Nick’s comment for others to evaluate:

    Nicholas Paizis
    September 4, 2023 at 7:20 am

    Bob – Are you aware of this?

    There is no
    climate emergency

  • Lee S

    On a tangent… I took my kids on a wonderful week’s holiday to the Greek island of Rhodes earlier in the year… The island was being ravaged by wild fires on the western side, fortunately we were on the eastern side… But one evening I could see the glow of the fire across the mountains, and the cresent moon was literally bright red…
    I have many friends on the island… I lived there for 3 years.. a long, long time ago, and all men of suitable age were conscripted in to help fight the fire…

    Climate change? Orbital wobble? More idiots starting fires? Who knows? But I still stand by position… However small the chances are that it’s all down to man made intervention into the natural order, we should still try our hardest to mitigate our impact. To not do so is passing a possible terrible burden on to our kids.

  • Cotour

    A message from he who seeks to lead the children: All in 40 sec.

    Its for the sake of the children and saving planet earth from being destroyed.

    Why is it always an Austrian or a German?

  • Nicholas Paizis

    Thanks for the mention Phil, this was probably a better thread to post it.

    What it does is to forever silence the claim that there is a scientific consensus that we are facing a climate crisis. With so many well credentialed Scientists, including two Nobel Laureates, finally willing to come forward and go on record saying that no, they do not agree with the political narrative that we are facing a climate catastrophe. Hopefully this will give courage to other scientists to speak out without fear of risking their careers and livelihoods. I am posting an brief excerpt. Anyone who wishes to review a list of those signing can follow the link.

    There is no
    climate emergency
    Climate science should be less political, while climate policies should be more
    scientific. Scientists should openly address uncertainties and exaggerations in
    their predictions of global warming, while politicians should dispassionately
    count the real costs as well as the imagined benefits of their policy measures
    Natural as well as anthropogenic factors cause warming
    The geological archive reveals that Earth’s climate has varied as long as the
    planet has existed, with natural cold and warm phases. The Little Ice Age
    ended as recently as 1850. Therefore, it is no surprise that we now are expe
    riencing a period of warming.
    Warming is far slower than predicted
    The world has warmed significantly less than predicted by IPCC on the basis
    of modeled anthropogenic forcing. The gap between the real world and the
    modeled world tells us that we are far from understanding climate change.
    Climate policy relies on inadequate models
    Climate models have many shortcomings and are not remotely plausible as
    policy tools. They do not only exaggerate the effect of greenhouse gases, they
    also ignore the fact that enriching the atmosphere with CO2 is beneficial.
    CO2 is plant food, the basis of all life on Earth
    CO2 is not a pollutant. It is essential to all life on Earth. More CO2 is favorable
    for nature, greening our planet. Additional CO2 in the air has promoted growth
    in global plant biomass. It is also profitable for agriculture, increasing the
    yields of crops worldwide.
    Global warming has not increased natural disasters
    There is no statistical evidence that global warming is intensifying hurricanes,
    floods, droughts and suchlike natural disasters, or making them more frequent.
    However, there is ample evidence that CO2mitigation measures are as damag
    ing as they are costly.
    Climate policy must respect scientific and economic realities
    There is no climate emergency. Therefore, there is no cause for panic and
    alarm. We strongly oppose the harmful and unrealistic net-zero CO2 policy
    proposed for 2050. Go for adaptation instead of mitigation; adaptation works
    whatever the causes are.

  • John

    El Nino and La Nina along with other larger atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns have an effect on our weather. Along with smoke and haze from files. And water vapor in the upper atmosphere from giant volcanic explosions. (looking at you Tonga). Maybe the sun even has a role to play. Naahhh, I’m just kidding, it’s all American carbon. Good thing China, the rest of Asia, and India create a heck of a lot of the CO2.

    They probably have the sunspot thing all figured out too. They don’t release the right numbers just to make sure we’re all paying attention.

  • Nicholas Paizis wrote, “What it does is to forever silence the claim that there is a scientific consensus that we are facing a climate crisis.”

    I fervently wish you were right but I am sadly more cynical, based on thirty years of experience. Such petitions have been signed and posted numerous times. Moreover, I have interviewed climate scientists for years numerous times who agree with you, saying forever again and again that there is no climate emergency. In fact, those same scientists stated as much quite clearly in the first IPCC report. Furthermore, that false study that claimed that 97% of all climate scientists agree with human-caused global warming was debunked as utterly false and an example of junk science within months of its publication.

    As any of this changed anything? No. The ideologues who are pushing these Chicken-Little “we are all gonna die” scenarios are not interested in facts. All they care about is gaining power, and using whatever Big Lie they can to do so. Screams of global warming has not so far really worked for them, which is why in 2020 they manufactured a panic over a new flu strain that, while slightly more dangerous than older strains, was hardly cause for panic and the abandonment of the Bill of Rights and the rule of law. But it worked, and appears among some to be still working.

    Even now, even after three years of clear repeated research that has shown masks don’t work, lock downs were a terrible failure, and the COVID jab accomplishes nothing but expose you to possible serious heart failure, these same ideologues continue their push. To them, none of these facts exist. They are insane, and will continue to do the same failed thing over and over again, because in at least one way it so far hasn’t failed, when it comes to giving them more power.

  • Cotour

    Everyone, just stop all of the back-and-forth controversy, this issue is settled, and it is in the end all about the children.

    The climate is changing and if humanity does not come together to get it under control under some international organization that is NOT dominated by the United States, then there will be death and destruction as the ice caps melt and the seas rise.

    And if you are opposed to this absolute now well-known settled truth then you are against children and the future of humanity!

    Anyone who is against children will have to be dealt with in the justifiably most severe terms.

  • GaryMike

    I think of the sun as a giant lava lamp.

  • David

    SWPC (Space Weather Prediction Center) has reposted three opening for forecasters on 9/28 for anyone looking for an opportunity.

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