Tag Archives: solar activity

Sunspot update: A tiny burst of activity that might mean something

On February 3, 2020, NOAA posted its January of its monthly graph showing the long term sunspot activity of the Sun. As I have done now every month since this webpage began in 2011, it is posted below, with annotations:

After seven months of practically no sunspot activity, the longest such stretch in probably a century, January had a tiny burst of activity, breaking that string. Of the month’s four sunspots, two had a polarity from the old solar cycle, two from the new.

January 2020 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, 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.

Despite their low number and general weakness, the continuing appearance of sunspots with polarities aligned with the new cycle strongly indicates that we will have a solar maximum in the next five years, not a grand minimum lasting decades that some scientists are predicting. While the year is young and it is certainly too soon to trust any trends, the fact that January saw an increase in activity over the past seven months suggests that we might have passed the low point of the minimum. We shall find out this year.

It must be remembered that the uncertainties in this field of science remain gigantic. No one really understands why the Sun’s magnetic dynamo goes through these cycles and flips in polarity. No one really understands why it produces sunspots as it does. And no one for sure yet knows exactly how the Sun’s cyclical behavior directly effects the climate. We only have circumstantial evidence, some of which can be legitimately questioned.

What is certain is that we don’t know very much, and are always in error when we forget this fact. Remember this always when some politician or scientist claims the science is settled or certain, and they know without doubt what is going to happen. They are either lying, fooling themselves, or are simply fools. In any case, such certainty in science should never be trusted.

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Sunspot update for August 2018: The slide to minimum

As it does the first Sunday of each month, yesterday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for August 2018. And as I do every month, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

The Sun in August had a slight uptick in sunspot activity, but not a very significant one. As such, the slide to solar minimum continues. Right now the lack of sunspot activity in 2018 is heading to match or even exceed 2007, the year in which the previous solar minimum began.

August 2018 sunspot activity

The graph above has been modified to show the predictions of the solar science community. 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.

If you look at the original graph at NOAA, you will see that we are getting very close to the right edge of the graph. I expect that sometime in the next few months NOAA will update the graph, a necessary act that will in one sense be a shame, as they have been adding monthly updates to this graph since the beginning of the last solar minimum. This has allowed everyone to see a standard visual, month to month, for comparing solar activity. It has also allowed me to annotate the graph properly to show how the 2007 and 2009 predictions held up against actual activity. Once the graph changes it will be more difficult to do this.

Anyway, it is very clear we are entering solar minimum, and that the solar cycle we are now completing will be both a short and weak cycle. What happens next is really the big question. Will the Sun sunspot activity recover? Or will we enter the first grand minimum since the 1600s? Either way, for solar scientists the coming years are going to be very exciting.

Posted on interstate 10 going from Tucson to Phoenix, on the way to the wooded northern forests of Arizona, where Diane and I will spend a couple of days visiting friends at their upstate cabin/home.

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Another Falcon 9 launch success

The competition heats up: A Falcon 9 rocket today successfully put a NASA solar observation satellite into orbit.

They have also said that they have achieved splashdown of the first stage, though no details yet on how soft that splashdown was.

Update: SpaceX reports that “the first stage successfully soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean within 10 meters of its target. The vehicle was nicely vertical and the data captured during this test suggests a high probability of being able to land the stage on the drone ship in better weather.”

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Weather 90% go for Falcon 9 launch today

The weather looks almost perfect for tonight’s Falcon 9 launch.

The Falcon 9 will put a solar observation satellite into orbit. While many left wing media outlets will wax poetic about this is Al Gore’s satellite, it is hardly that. It might have been built initially under his misguided idea of creating a propaganda satellite to take daily images of the Earth (images that are essentially of little use for climate studies), DSCOVR has been very carefully redesigned to give it a real purpose, monitoring the solar activity of the Sun and providing a replacement/back-up for ACE, which is now more than a decade overdue for replacement.

The Falcon 9 launch will also attempt again to land intact its first stage on a floating barge. If this attempt succeeds the entire future of space travel will be reshaped.

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Kepler team pushes for mission extension

The Kepler team pushes for a mission extension in order to find Earth-sized planets.

The Kepler spacecraft has hit an unexpected obstacle as it patiently watches the heavens for exoplanets: too many rowdy young stars. The orbiting probe detects small dips in the brightness of a star that occur when a planet crosses its face. But an analysis of some 2,500 of the tens of thousands of Sun-like stars detected in Kepler’s field of view has found that the stars themselves flicker more than predicted, with the largest number varying twice as much as the Sun. That makes it harder to detect Earth-sized bodies. As a result, the analysis suggests that Kepler will need more than double its planned mission life of three-and-a-half years to achieve its main goal of determining how common Earth-like planets are in the Milky Way.

While it is important to find those Earth-sized planets, to me the important discovery here is that Kepler is confirming what previous research has suggested: Stars like our Sun are generally far more active and variable than the Sun itself. Which means that either the Sun is unusual, or has been unusually inactive during recorded human history.

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The Sun in April – Steady as she goes!

The monthly updated graph for April of the Sun’s solar cycle sunspot activity was posted yesterday by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. You can see it below.

Though the Sun remained active, you can see that the steep increase in sunspot activity that occurred in March has ceased. At the moment it looks as if the Sun’s sunspot activity is following the most recent scientific prediction, more or less exactly, though the small dip in April puts the numbers slightly below that prediction.

All in all, we still appear to be headed to the weakest solar maximum in two hundred years.

April Sunspot activity

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Hot time on the ol’ Sun tonight!

After literally years of inactivity, well below all initial predictions, the Sun truly came to life this past month. Below is the March monthly update of the Sun’s sunspot cycle, published by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. The red curve is the prediction, while the dotted black line shows the actual activity.

As you can see, the Sun’s sunspot activity shot up precipitously. Though I don’t have the data from past years, the March jump appears to me to probably be one of the fastest monthly rises ever recorded.

Does this mean the newest prediction from the solar scientists at the Marshall Space Flight Center calling for a weak solar maximum in 2013 is wrong? Probably not, though of course in this young field who knows? I would say, however, that the overall trend of the data still suggests the next maximum will be very weak.

Stay tuned! The next few months should finally give us a sense of where the next maximum is heading.

March Sunspot graph

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