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Sunspot update: April activity drops steeply

NOAA this week once again published an update of its monthly graph that tracks the number of sunspots on the Sun’s Earth-facing hemisphere. As I do every month, I have posted this graph below, with some additional details included to provide some context.

In April the number of sunspots dropped again, for the second time in the past three months. The high activity previously had suggested that the solar maximum was going to be much higher than predicted, or possibly would come sooner than expected. The drop however now suggests that the fast rise in sunspot activity that we have seen since the beginning of the ramp up to solar maximum in 2020 might finally be abating.

April 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.

The drop in April brings sunspot activity back into the margin of error for the April 2020 prediction. More importantly, the decline suggests that we are about to enter a protracted flat period of sunspot activity, more in line with the consensus prediction of NOAA’s solar scientists. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that since 2020 sunspot activity has consistently tracked the high end of this prediction. If it continues to do so, maximum will come in 2025 as predicted, with a peak only slightly higher than the prediction.

The biggest difference if this happens will be the flat nature of the solar maximum, maintaining its peak level of activity for almost half the entire eleven year cycle. Though not unprecedented, such a flat peak is not typical.

Even so, this flat peak however will remain a relatively weak solar maximum, the second such maximum in row.

All of this however is pure speculation. The group of solar scientists who rejected the prediction of NOAA panel and instead predicted in 2020 a very high maximum in 2025 recently revised their prediction, saying they now expect the maximum to come one year early, and that the maximum will not be as intense as they predicted, though still higher than NOAA’s prediction.

As I noted last month, none of these predictions really mean anything. These predictions are based solely on past behavior, not on any understanding of the true fundamental causes for this sunspot cycle within the Sun’s magnetic dynamo. That the dissenters are now adjusting their prediction to make it align more with what has happening is not an indication of their knowledge, but actually shows us how little they know. They simply change their prediction to fit the facts, as the facts change.

Should the upcoming maximum be as weak as now predicted by everyone, it will however provide us one more solid data point, though why it has happened remains a complete mystery. For the past three centuries, two solar cycles at the start of each century (1800s, 1900s, and 2000s) were weak. This could simply be a random coincidence in a random pattern, or it could suggest some internal dynamic. At the moment we simply do not know.

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  • Doug Johnson

    Thanks as always for the solar info.. We’re still in an interesting phase where it’s hard to predict.. Keep up the good work.

  • Phill O

    Interesting observation on the (approximate) 100 year cycle of maxima.

  • GaryMike

    Is the Sun’s unpredictable behavior the actual issue, or is it that we have no learned accuracy in evaluating a chaotic, naturally occurring system, with anything approaching confidence in our own powers of deduction?

    Figuring out the natural behavior of the sum seems secondary to figuring out our own.

  • Star Bird

    Sun Spots are suppose to have bigger effect on our weather then dose our modern way of living

  • markedup2

    “the Sun’s Earth-facing hemisphere” is that a useful thing?

    It is a constantly changing hemisphere because the sun rotates and Earth revolves. It seems a like a fairly arbitrary (although easy to look at) definition of “hemisphere”.

  • markedup2: The system is arbitrary, but the Earth-facing hemisphere was only observable piece of information for centuries. Holding to that system allows new data to match old data, thus continuing the measure of solar activity in a consistent way.

    None of this precludes gathering data now from the Sun’s other hemisphere, using space probes. This system merely allows us to continue measuring the solar cycle in the same manner as before.

  • 170 sunspots today.

    Don’t pay too much attention to fluctuations—look at SC24 to see even bigger ones.

    As well as sunspots this cycle has seen more flares, more coronal mass ejections etc. The sun is significantly more active now than in SC24.

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