Last month I titled my sunspot update “Almost no sunspots,” as there were only two sunspots for the entire month of July, with one having the polarity for the next solar maximum.
August however beat July, with only one sunspot for the month, and none linked to the next maximum. To the right is the Silso graph of sunspot activity for August, showing just one sunspot for the month, on only one day, August 13.
Below is NOAA’s August graph of the overall sunspot cycle since 2009, released by NOAA today and annotated to give it some context.
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.
Note how the almost total lack of sunspot activity during the past three months is far below the expected activity indicated by the red curve. Note too that the activity for this entire cycle has consistently under performed the predictions. The ramp up to solar maximum started later and has ended sooner than predicted, with the activity itself always less than expected.
In fact, this particular now-ending cycle appears to have been only a little more than ten years long, from 2009 to 2019. In the past, short cycles were always associated with very active solar maximums. Weak solar cycles always lasted longer than eleven years. The last cycle however was very unprecedented, being short and weak. Moreover, its double peak, with the second peak the larger of the two, was also unprecedented. In past double-peaked maximums the first peak had always been the larger.
What does this mean for the future? Who knows? I can promise you that the solar scientist community only has a vague idea themselves. What we have been seeing is different that past solar behavior, and means the Sun is teaching us things we didn’t know before.