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Sunspot update: The Sun’s unprecedented pause to maximum continues

It is the beginning of the month, and NOAA has once again published its update of its monthly graph that tracks the number of sunspots on the Sun’s Earth-facing hemisphere. Below is the newest graph, adding November’s numbers to the timeline and annotated by me with some additional details added to provide context.

Sunspot activity dropped in November, though still remained significantly higher than the prediction, a sunspot number of 77.6 compared to the predicted number of 57.4. At 77.6, the Sun continues the pause that began in June in the ramp up to solar maximum. For the past half year the Sun’s sunspot output has essentially stalled at approximately the same level.


November 2022 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.

This pause is somewhat unprecedented. Though random fluctuations in the ramp up toward maximum are not unusual, that ramp up has almost always been steep, fast, and more or less continuous. The last time there was any long pause to maximum was during the ramp up to the 1916 solar maximum.

Nonetheless, November once again saw no blank days, continuing the pattern for all of 2022, which has so far seen only one day where the visible hemisphere of the Sun has been blank. While the increase in sunspots has stalled, it has done so at a high enough rate so that we always see sunspots.

Does this pause mean the maximum will end up closer to the predicted weak maximum, as indicated by the red curve? No. What the pause indicates is that the Sun is simply acting in its typically unpredictable manner. It is continuing to have a solar cycle (as predicted) but the details of that cycle remain capricious, and little understood. As I said in last month’s update:

For the actual sunspot count to come into alignment with the prediction we would either need to see a sudden drastic drop in sunspots (unlikely), or the pause would have to continue for the rest of this year and all of ’23.

…Such a pause would be entirely unprecedented.

Of course, the Sun could do this, considering how little we understand the fundamental processes that produce this sunspot cycle. Or it could sudden generate a lot more sunspots, resuming that fast ramp up that suggested this upcoming maximum would be very strong. Or it could suddenly weaken, with sunspot numbers dropping, and thus prove the prediction of NOAA’s panel right.

We simply do not know, cannot predict with any certainty, and can only wait and gather data.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

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Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

13 comments

  • Rockribbed1

    Not sure why you don’t want to discuss the two peaks that always happen in solar activity. Northern sunspot peak occurs first and Southern peaks later. We are near the top of solar cycle 25.

  • Phill O

    Very interesting!

    Has anyone ever compared the storms in the convoy route for the Atlantic between now and WW2?

    That might be a very interesting comparison. We knew a lot about weather patterns and frequency (of storms) in the early 1940s.

  • Rockribbed1: The two peaks do not “always happen”. In fact, it is an exception, not the rule.

    Nonetheless, your point is very well taken. It does appear that the north and south hemispheres of the Sun have been more out of synch in the past two maximums. Why is of course not understood.

  • Edward

    Rockribbed1 suggested: “We are near the top of solar cycle 25.

    It is far too early to make that call, and it is unlikely that this cycle is so much shorter than the other cycles. Had we been this eager to call a (first?) peak in the previous cycle, we would have incorrectly called it in 2011.

    It is, however, noteworthy that the two hemispheres seem to be so loosely connected. It is yet another as yet unsolved mystery of the sun.

  • Jeff Wright

    A “failed Carrington event” detonated naval mines in the Vietnam “Police Action.”

  • Blackwing1

    Mr. Zimmerman:

    Are you familiar with RAH’s short story, “The Year of the Jackpot”?

    Lots of cycles, lots of graphs….let’s hope it’s not all coming together.

  • Blackwing1: If I have read this Heinlein story, I probably did so back in the 1960s, a long time ago. It isn’t in my library.

  • I remember that Heinlein story. Have to dig through my collection and see if I still have a copy.
    Do see it’s available here for $2.00:
    http://heinleinarchives.net/upload/index.php?_a=viewProd&productId=119

  • Blackwing1

    Mr. Zimmerman:

    It was published in 1952 in “Galaxy” magazine and has been in at least two different collections of Heinlein’s short stories.

    I found what I think is the complete story on-line:
    https://www.causeweb.org/cause/sites/default/files/The_Year_of_the_Jackpot.pdf

    It’s fairly short…enjoy!

  • Blackwing1

    Or you can get a copy of one of the collections (“The Menace from Earth”) for $4.95:

    https://www.powells.com/searchresults?keyword=heinlein+menace+from+earth

    It’s a collection of often overlooked stories from the master.

  • Blackwing1: My, my, I had read that story, many many years ago. Falls into a subgenre of science fiction I love that I call “end of the world stories.” Heinlein’s take however is certainly different, and surely disturbing considering the madness overwhelming civilization today.

    In the early 1980s Douglas Hofstadter wrote a column for Scientific American (when that magazine was not an embarrassment). One of his best columns was about the emerging chaos theory linked to fractals. Along the way he also once commented that bad ideas can sometimes be like a virus in the human brain, spreading and poisoning minds madly until something happens — usually a war — that cleanses the species.

    It appears the human mind is now being overwhelmed by several such viruses, and because of the bomb we have not waged a cleansing war for many decades. Heinlein’s story reflects this analysis.

    What will happen next is unclear. Heinlein is wrong on one point. There is no guarantee the curve will resume its upward path.

  • BLSinSC

    Blackwing! I looked up that story! WOW – seems like CA has been on the “cutting edge of crazy” for quite a while!!

    One thing I noticed from the chart above : look at the “pause” around 2012 compared to 2022! Very similar but then WHOOSSHH (As Luther said – Don Knotts in the Ghost and Mr. Chicken reference) all heck breaks loose and it’s HOT!! That would put the hottest summer in a while in perspective! And JUST MY LUCK as I had retired in 2015 and was building a big deck in AUGUST!! I do believe the sunspots have more to do with our temps than cow farts!! I recently saw a statistic about BUFFALOES!! There were over 60 MILLION roaming around, just a’chewin and a’stomping, and a’farting but lo and behold – not extreme influence on weather or CO2 levels!! That 60 million is one and a half times more than all the cows we have now! Enough rambling – thanks for the Story !!

  • LocalFluff

    This would fit with a double top with the first one coming early, then a big dip and a second top. All in all leading to a lower than usual overall maximum value. Before the previous solar maximum I heard a heliophycisist propose that we are seeing a double top that is spreading. As if there are now two cycles that add up with somewhat different periodicity.

    If this is proven correct, something might’ve happened with the Sun, because we have seen this potential pattern develop only in the last few cycles. Sometime mid-century the top of one would occur when the other is at the bottom, leading to a much flatter total Sun spot count for a few decades.

    Perhaps this is how it gradually inverses its polarity?

    Quite speculative, but there’s not so much to go on. Heliophysics is poorly understood and recognized as one of the most difficult subjects in physics to study. The math used isn’t very kind and the data about the Sun’s inner life is sparse. At least ESA’s Solar Orbiter is on its way and after a Venus passage in 2025 will make its first inclined Solar orbit, at 17 degrees, getting the first ever peak at the Solar poles from a 0.28 AU distance. The orbital inclination will gradually increase to 33 degrees in 2030.

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