It is time for my monthly sunspot update. NOAA this week updated its graph that tracks the number of sunspots on the Sun’s Earth-facing hemisphere. This graph is posted below, with some additional details included to provide some context.
Last month the number of sunspots dipped slightly after a gigantic leap of activity in January. This month showed a small rise in activity, but not enough to bring levels back to the January’s levels. Nonetheless, activity remains the highest seen since 2014. when the last solar maximum was approaching its end, and continues to exceed significantly the 2020 prediction by NOAA’s panel of solar scientists.
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.
March’s activity remained well above the high end of the margin of error for the NOAA April 2020 prediction, as indicated by the grey curve. While in general the consistently high activity since the beginning of the ramp up to solar maximum has tracked that prediction’s high end, the numbers for the last three months have well exceeded it.
What does this mean? Practically nothing, since when it comes to predicting the on-going solar cycle of sunspots past performance never predicts future results. It is possible that this ramp up could continue for the next year, making the coming maximum very active. In this case, the NOAA panel’s prediction will be proven wrong, and instead the high prediction by a dissenting group of solar scientists will be right.
It is also equally possible that the ramp up is now ceasing, and that the Sun’s sunspot activity will now stabilize for the next three years at about this level. In this case, NOAA’s panel will be proven right, and we will likely see a double maximum, as occurred during the previous maximum as well as during the 2001 maximum.
At the moment there is no scientist in the world that can truthfully tell us what will happen. The science here is most uncertain, since no one really yet understands the fundamental processes that cause this 11-year solar cycle of sunspot activity, caused by the polarity flip of the Sun’s magnetic field. Scientists know sunspots are caused by activity in the Sun’s magnetic field, but they do not understand the reasons the magnetic field exhibits these cyclical patterns.
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