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Sunspot update: January activity returns to expected levels

Though I am a bit late this month, it is once again time provide my monthly update of the Sun’s on-going sunspot cycle. Below is NOAA’s February 1, 2021 monthly graph, showing the Sun’s monthly sunspot activity. I have, as I do each month, annotated it to show the previous solar cycle predictions.

After two months of relatively high activity, activity that was very high so early in the ramp up to solar maximum, the number of sunspots in January dropped down to closely match the predicted value. It was still higher, but not by much.

January 2021 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.

That activity remains above the prediction suggests that this prediction might be too low. I must emphasize however that it is too soon to tell. What we do know is that there is no consensus among solar scientists as to what will happen next. The solar scientists from NOAA, as indicated by the red curve above, expect a relatively weak solar maximum, comparable to the weak maximum seen in 2009. Others believe that the upcoming solar maximum will be very strong, as much as two times stronger than NOAA’s prediction. Others had predicted no solar maximum at all, a prediction which now appears to have been wrong.

I’ve said this many times before but it bears repeating. These predictions are not based on any real understanding of the underlying magnetic dynamo processes in the Sun that produce sunspots. They merely predict based on different patterns seen from past cycles.

We know the Sun’s magnetic field and dynamo produce the cycles. We really do not know why.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

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  • Phill O

    Does anyone have the old link to the data from the very start of sun spot recording? Seems the internet searches (duckduckgo) have only hits where the Maunder minimum is missing. I have switched computers and lost the old link.

  • Phill O

    Sorry, finally found it. Was trying to see the uptick in sun spots at the start of a climb to maximum. It seems the sun spot group that lead to the uptick was, possibly, fairly common, but the rule.

    There seems no doubt that our basic understanding of solar dynamics needs a lot of work. The grand maximum of the mid 1900s could very well be related to the rate of glacial recession. WHY is the real question.

  • LocalFluff

    Just looking at the curves with the naked eye (and heliophysicists don’t seem to base their practical predictions on much more than that, yet): If the broadening of the double tops at maximum continues from cycle to cycle, basically if there are two overlapping one-year out of phase sinus curves because of some convoluted inner workings of the Sun, then I visually predict a quick rise to a first big top (100-150 spots) during late 2022. Then three years of a big dent in the middle of this cycle, down to 50 spots. Followed by a second double top again 100-150 spots, finally ending the cycle to 0 spots 11 years after the last bottom just ended.

    Then with the bottom between the double tops lasting half of the 26th cycle, there might be no discernible top at all, but the number of spots staying below 50 for all of the 2030th. Given this childishly simple assumption.

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