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Sunspot update: Sunspot activity continues to exceed predictions

The uncertainty of science: On May 1st NOAA updated its monthly graph to show the Sun’s sunspot activity through the end of April 2021. As I do every month, I have annotated it to show the previous solar cycle predictions and posted it below.

In my sunspot update last month I reviewed in detail the range of predictions by solar scientist for the upcoming solar maximum, noting that based on the higher than expected sunspot activity that has been occurring since the ramp up to solar maximum began in 2020, it appeared that all of their predictions might be wrong. The continuing high activity that occurred in April continued that trend.


April 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.

As the dots on the black line show, since the low point in February, just above the red prediction curve, the number of sunspots in April continued upward at the same pace as in March. Since the beginning of 2020 the Sun’s sunspot activity has consistently exceeded the prediction.

Does that mean we are heading for a very active solar maximum? No, not at these numbers. While the activity does exceed the prediction, it does not do so by much. If you extrapolate these numbers through 2025 (something I admit is a dangerous thing to do), it suggests the next solar maximum will be slightly more active than predicted, and only marginally more powerful than the previous very weak maximum in 2014. Such a maximum would still be very weak, and in fact would be a positive confirmation of the red curve prediction.

Two weak maximums in a row would also continue past patterns, as shown by the historic solar cycle curves at the bottom of the graph. The first two maximums for the 1800s and 1900s were also weak. Having the first two maximums in the 2000s also be weak would simply continue that pattern.

Why such a pattern happens however remains unknown. Though we know that the sunspot cycle is caused by fluctuations in the Sun’s dynamo, no one really understands that dynamo or the processes that cause it to fluctuate.

Furthermore, my extrapolation above must be taken with a gigantic grain of salt. There is no guarantee activity will continue at this pace. It is just as likely that the Sun’s activity will ease in the coming year and begin to match the prediction. Or go up to further exceed it. Because we really don’t know why the activity fluctuates, we can’t make any meaningful predictions about what it will do next.

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7 comments

  • Furthermore, my extrapolation above must be taken with a gigantic grain of salt. There is no guarantee activity will continue at this pace. It is just as likely that the Sun’s activity will ease in the coming year and begin to match the prediction. Or go up to further exceed it. Because we really don’t know why the activity fluctuates, we can’t make any meaningful predictions about what it will do next.

    An example of honest, science-based extrapolation – as opposed to the goalpost-moving extrapolations of activists out to keep their gigs going.

  • Phill O

    Thanks again Bob for the review.

    As have mentioned before, these changes will tend to be gradual so not much chance of a plummet to low activity or early climax; but then, as stated, we no so little of the underlying causes of the dynamo shifts.

  • Alex Andrite

    … silly dynamo ….

    Love it !

  • BSinSC

    There’s a somewhat similarity from 2020 to 2010. Could it be that the sun has a ten year “cycle” of high/low activity? Looking at the Centuries graph you can see it there. I’m no statistician or good guesser, but there seems to be a pattern that shows no FIRM pattern but a definite ranges of ups and downs. Heading into the 21st Century there were three UPS and now two Downs. That last showed during the mid 1800’s. I have no idea what the weather was like back then, but it might be worth looking at to compare temps and storms. Or it might be nothing other than just something else to “think” about! I really enjoy this site and the range of topics covered in a no nonsense way. Thank you for this! I do use your sunspot activity to TRY to educate others!

  • Krusty1234

    Do your predictions correlate with Zharkova’s recent work?

  • Krusty1235: Zharkova’s work is presently turning out to be wrong. She predicted we would be entering a grand minimum, with no sunspots at all. This is not happening.

  • Etaoin Shrdlu

    Well that’s a bummer. She’s still totally hawt, tho.

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