Sunspot update: A tiny burst of activity that might mean something


Genesis cover

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On February 3, 2020, NOAA posted its January of its monthly graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun. As I have done now every month since this webpage began in 2011, it is posted below, with annotations:

After seven months of practically no sunspot activity, the longest such stretch in probably a century, January had a tiny burst of activity, breaking that string. Of the month’s four sunspots, two had a polarity from the old solar cycle, two from the new.

January 2020 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, with half the scientists predicting a very strong maximum and half predicting a weak one. The red curve is their revised May 2009 prediction, extended in November 2018 four years into the future.

Despite their low number and general weakness, the continuing appearance of sunspots with polarities aligned with the new cycle strongly indicates that we will have a solar maximum in the next five years, not a grand minimum lasting decades that some scientists are predicting. While the year is young and it is certainly too soon to trust any trends, the fact that January saw an increase in activity over the past seven months suggests that we might have passed the low point of the minimum. We shall find out this year.

It must be remembered that the uncertainties in this field of science remain gigantic. No one really understands why the Sun’s magnetic dynamo goes through these cycles and flips in polarity. No one really understands why it produces sunspots as it does. And no one for sure yet knows exactly how the Sun’s cyclical behavior directly effects the climate. We only have circumstantial evidence, some of which can be legitimately questioned.

What is certain is that we don’t know very much, and are always in error when we forget this fact. Remember this always when some politician or scientist claims the science is settled or certain, and they know without doubt what is going to happen. They are either lying, fooling themselves, or are simply fools. In any case, such certainty in science should never be trusted.

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5 comments

  • Alex Andrite

    MR.Z –
    Good update, thank you.
    > “It must be remembered that the uncertainties in this field of science remain gigantic. “<

    I embrace the term Mystery, all the while acknowledging "uncertainties" and "gigantic" which may be Mysteries for now, as so many have been in our past, only then to become visible and revealed as we struggle with our understandings.

    I enjoy closing my eyes and looking up towards the sun.
    Also, while awaiting more "uncertainties" from the solar winds.

  • wayne

    July 23, 2012 Coronal Mass Ejection event
    NASA / Goddard 2014
    https://youtu.be/sg3NAdOYp8Q
    3:02

  • David

    While it would be good to clarify various scientific fields with a good unambiguous grand solar minimum, I must admit that I much prefer the annoyance of smug scientists that think they know more than they do and want to enact potentially harmful policies on insufficient data to the probable effects on agriculture and the like of a grand minimum. It’s kind of sobering to realize that it wasn’t really that long ago in geologic times that where I live was under nearly a kilometer of ice, and there is some research that suggests that the transition from ice-free to massive glaciation may have happened in mere decades. A grand minimum isn’t likely to trigger that kind of change, but I’d rather not find out.

  • Phill O

    “It must be remembered that the uncertainties in this field of science remain gigantic. No one really understands why the Sun’s magnetic dynamo goes through these cycles and flips in polarity. No one really understands why it produces sunspots as it does. And no one for sure yet knows exactly how the Sun’s cyclical behavior directly effects the climate.”

    This says it all.

    However, when we are considering the possibilities of long term cycles, it stands to reason that the next cycle (25) would be lower than 24 but not nonexistent. We will have to wait and see, and adjust our theories accordingly. We do not yet know enough to predict whether or not we are going into a grand minimum.

    We know for certain that the Canadian Rockies are significantly colder now (even after this current warming trend) than it was 5000 years ago, by the existence of “forest” (albeit alpine) where glaciers are currently in existence.

    We know for certain, the northern hemisphere was colder during the Maunder minimum. We do not know the mechanisms in place whereby this was effected. We have the chance to know much more should research funds enable more great minds investigate with “open minds”.

  • Star Bird

    Sunspots and Solar Flares have more effect on our weather then do all the backyard BBQ’s and SUV’s do

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