This past weekend NOAA released its monthly update of its graph showing the Sun’s sunspot activity, with the new update covering the period through the end of June 2021. As I have done since I began this website eleven years ago, I post that monthly graph below, annotated to show the previous solar cycle predictions and thus provide context.
In June the hot streak of sunspot activity exceeding the prediction of NOAA’s solar science panel continued, with activity rising again after a tiny dip in May. Except for two months, since 2019 the number of sunspots each month has consistently exceeded the prediction. Furthermore, the ramp up of activity has been faster than expected.
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.
Despite this hot streak, the difference so far between the prediction and the actual sunspot count is not very much. Should this pace of activity continue through maximum, the overall maximum, though higher than expected, will not be much higher than the previous solar maximum, which was one of the weakest in a century.
In other words, the Sun is still under-performing. Moreover, it is still too soon to say whether the prediction of NOAA’s panel, as indicated by the red curve, is wrong. It is not unusual for the monthly fluctuations to swing above and below such prediction curves. Given time, the overall curve could still match quite closely.
Nonetheless, the continuing unexpected high activity lends weight to the predictions of some solar scientists, who bucked the consensus of NOAA’s panel and continue to predict that the upcoming maximum will be strong, not weak.
It is too soon to say who will be right, but it is also clear that the consensus has no lock on correctness. In this sense, the solar cycle is giving us wonderful illustration of the uncertainty of science. Our knowledge is incomplete, so all predictions are untrustworthy and must be treated with great skepticism.
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