Tag Archives: solar minimum

Sunspot update June 2019: Down to zero again, with next cycle making an appearance

Below is the June graph of sunspot activity released by NOAA yesterday. As I do every month, I am posting it here, annotated to give it some context.

After three months of slightly increased sunspot activity, the Sun in June was essentially blank, with sunspots visible on its facing hemisphere on only five days. In addition, the 36 day stretch of spotless days that began in May and stretched through most of June was the longest such stretch since the last minimum in 2009.
June 2019 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.

Even while the solar minimum continues and heads for its low point, the first indications of the next solar solar cycle have appeared:
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New prediction for upcoming solar cycle

The uncertainty of science: A new prediction for the upcoming solar cycle, announced today, calls for a much weaker cycle then the general consensus of the solar science community.

The new prediction:

The forecast for the next solar cycle says it will be the weakest of the last 200 years. The maximum of this next cycle – measured in terms of sunspot number, a standard measure of solar activity level – could be 30 to 50% lower than the most recent one. The results show that the next cycle will start in 2020 and reach its maximum in 2025.

The consensus prediction:

[They] dutifully tabulate the estimates, and come up with a peak sunspot range: 95 to 130. This spells a weak cycle, but not notably so, and it’s marginally stronger than the past cycle. [They do] the same with the votes for the timing of minimum. The consensus is that it will come sometime between July 2019 and September 2020. Maximum will follow sometime between 2023 and 2026.

The main difference is that the consensus expects the next maximum to be weak but stronger than the maximum that just ended, while the new prediction says the next maximum will be the weakest in 200 years.

It has been my impression that there is unhappiness in the solar science community over the consensus prediction. I suspect today’s independent prediction is an indication of that unhappiness. The scientists involved in this research wanted to go on record that they disagree with the consensus.

I expect that NOAA will eventually put the consensus prediction on their monthly sunspot graph that I post here each month. If they do, I might also add this independent prediction so that we can compare the accuracy of the two as the next cycle unfolds.

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Sunspot update April 2019: Not quite minimum

Time for the monthly sunspot update: NOAA yesterday released its the monthly update for the Sun’s sunspot cycle, adding sunspot activity for April 2019 to its graph. As I do every month, I have annotated that graph to give it some context and am posting it below.

While the Sun is clearly at the beginning of what might be an extended or very extended solar minimum, the continuing uptick in activity in both March and April illustrates that we have still not arrived at full minimum.

April 2019 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.

As the Sun ramps down to minimum it will have months where there is no activity, as happened in February 2019, and months, such as in March and April, where more sunspots appear.

Eventually the quiet months will become dominate, and soon thereafter, when activity increases again (assuming it does), the solar science community will then announce the date of true minimum.

We are not there. Normally it can take a year or more for the Sun to settle down. If activity declines as indicated by the red curve, it could take as long four years, which would be a record-long minimum. The difference will tell us whether the eleven-year solar cycle is continuing, or the Sun is heading into a grand minimum, with no significant sunspots for decades.

And as I have said repeatedly in the past five years, a grand minimum could significantly impact the global climate, cooling it. Or not. It is that unknown that will be answered should a grand minimum occur. Circumstantial data suggests an inactive Sun cools the planet, and the arrival of a new grand minimum will allow scientists to confirm or refute that circumstantial data.

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Sunspot update March 2019: An upcoming Grand Minimum?

Even though we are now deep into the beginning of what might become the first grand minimum in sunspot activity since the invention of the telescope, that does not mean the Sun has as yet stopped producing sunspots. Yesterday NOAA released its the monthly update of its tracking of the solar cycle, adding sunspot activity for March 2019 to its graph. Below is that graph, annotated by me to give it some context.

It shows the Sun with a slight burst in activity in March, suggesting that though we are now in the solar minimum that minimum still has the ability to produce sunspots.

At the same time, for me to say that we might be heading to a grand minimum, a time period lasting many decades where no sunspots are visible and the sunspot cycle essentially ceases, is not click bait or hyperbole. It is instead based on what I now think the solar science community is thinking, based on this very graph.

March 2019 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.

For past half dozen or so cycles the solar science community had issued its prediction for the upcoming solar maximum at about this stage in the overall cycle, during the final ramp down to minimum when it was clear that the Sun had entered that minimum.

This cycle’s prediction however has not yet happened, and in fact appears to be late. In fact, the extension of the May 2009 red curve that was made in November 2018 might very well be the only prediction we see. That extension is shown by the differences between the green 2007 prediction and the red 2009 prediction in the graph. Before November 2018 both curves ended at the same place, the end of 2018.

The extension of that red curve is important. As I noted in my December 2018 sunspot update,
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Sunspot update February 2019: The Sun flatlines again

We are now deep into solar minimum. On Sunday NOAA released its the monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for February 2019. As I have done every month since the start of Behind the Black, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

February 2019 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.

For the second time since the beginning of the solar minimum last year, the Sun flat-lined for an month, producing no visible sunspots during the entire month of February.

That streak has continued into March. At present we are four days into March, and still no sunspots.

The big question that I will be repeating probably every month for the next two years is whether we are merely experiencing an early and possibly deep solar minimum, or the advent of a new grand minimum, with no visible sunspots for decades. During the last grand minimum in the 1600s there is evidence the Earth cooled, so much so that it was labeled the Little Ice Age. And with previous grand minimums over the past few thousand years there is evidence that similar coolings occurred. Similarly, periods where sunspot activity was high also appear to have been periods of warmer temperatures.

Why is not clearly understood, though there is some evidence that it might be related to the increasd cosmic ray flux during solar minimum.Those rays might interact with the atmosphere to produce more clouds, thus cooling the Earth. This is not proven however and remains merely a theory linked to some tentative preliminary evidence.

If we do enter a grand minimum, scientists will likely get the answers to these questions. However, we might also find ourselves experiencing significantly colder weather. I am right now flying from Chicago to Columbus, over Lake Michigan, which is filled with ice floes, something we have not seen in March for decades. Nor has this kind of cold weather been unusual for the past decade or so. Could it be because of the weak solar maximum we just experienced and the deep and extended solar minimum just before that? No one knows.

All we can do is gather data, and find out.

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Sunspot update January 2019: The early solar minimum

As I have done every month since 2011, I am now posting NOAA’s the monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for January 2019. They posted this update on Monday, and I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

January 2019 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.

January saw a slight uptick in sunspot activity, but the overall activity remains comparable to mid-2008, when the last prolonged solar minimum began. If you go to my October 2018 update, you can see the graph when it included data going back to 2000 and see the entire last minimum.

That last minimum started in the last half of 2007, and lasted until mid-2009, a full two years. If you look at the red line prediction of the solar science community, it appears that they are expecting this coming minimum to last far longer, almost forever. I expect this is not really true, but that they have simply not agreed on a prediction for the next cycle. Some in that solar science community have hypothesized that we are about to enter a grand minimum, with no sunspots for decades and thus no solar maximum. Others do not agree.

Since neither faction really understands the mechanism that causes these sunspot cycles, there is no way now to determine what will happen, until it does so. What we do know from climate data is that the Earth cools when the Sun is inactive. Why remains unclear, though there is at least one theory, with some evidence, that attempts to explain it.

And despite the untrustworthy claims of NOAA and NASA scientists that the last few years have been hot, experience on the ground disputes this. Their data has been adjusted (tampered if one wants to be more blunt) to make it fit their global warming theory. The raw unadjusted data suggests things have instead cooled, which better fits with the brutal winters Americans experienced for the past decade or so.

If the Sun does enter a grand minimum in the coming decades, I suspect it will become increasingly difficult for NOAA and NASA to continue their temperature adjustments and continue claiming things are getting warmer. At a minimum, we will learn something about the Sun and its behavior and its influence on the climate that we never knew before.

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Sunspot update December 2018: Decline to solar minimum continues

Time for the monthly solar cycle update! NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for December 2018. As I do every month, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

December 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.

There really isn’t much to say about the sunspot activity in December. It continued to show a steady decline to solar minimum, exhibiting activity very comparable to what we saw in mid-2008 when the previous unusually long and extended solar minimum began.

One interested detail however: When NOAA issued this graph last month, it finally extended it out beyond the end of 2019 to the end of 2022. In doing so, it also extended out the 2009 prediction of the solar science community, as indicated by the red curve. I hadn’t commented on this last month, but if you look at that curve it drops to zero and then flatlines for the entire year of 2022.

If this is what the solar science community now expects for this upcoming minimum, it means that community is now expecting a record-breaking minimum, lasting far longer than any previous minimum, two to three years at least. It also means that they have not dismissed the possibility that the Sun is about to enter a Grand Minimum, where no significant sunspot activity is seen for literally decades.

Should such a grand minimum occur, it bodes ill for global warming advocates. The track record of the Earth’s climate consistently shows that when sunspot activity declines, the global climate gets colder. Why this happens is not clearly understood, though there is at least one theory backed up by good experimental data. Should this happen, we shall discover that global cooling is a far worse thing to fear than global warming.

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Sunspot update November 2018: Minimum continues

NOAA’s monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for November 2018, was released yesterday. As I have done every month since this website began in July 2011, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

November 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.

As I have been expecting now for the last three months, NOAA has finally revised this graph to extend it past the end of 2018. The graph below is the graph from October, which follows the layout and design used since 2007. You can see the differences by comparing the two graphs. In extending the new graph to the end of 2022, they fortunately did not change the design significantly. However, because the new graph has a slightly different scale, I have stretched the green and red curves to make them fit properly. While I suspect the poor quality of the 2007 and 2009 predictions is one reason they do not include them on their graph, I think it essential to add them to better understand the limitations of the science.
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Earth’s atmosphere cooling as solar minimum arrives

The uncertainty of science: With the early arrival of the solar minimum, the Earth’s atmosphere has quickly shown signs of cooling.

New research shows that Earth’s upper atmosphere is responding. “We see a cooling trend,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA’s Langley Research Center. “High above Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy. If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.”

These results come from the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite. SABER monitors infrared emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO), two substances that play a key role in the energy balance of air 100 to 300 kilometers above our planet’s surface. By measuring the infrared glow of these molecules, SABER can assess the thermal state of gas at the very top of the atmosphere–a layer researchers call “the thermosphere.”

“The thermosphere always cools off during Solar Minimum. It’s one of the most important ways the solar cycle affects our planet,” explains Mlynczak, who is the associate principal investigator for SABER.

What effect this upper atmosphere cooling will have on the surface climate is somewhat uncertain, though there is a great deal of evidence suggesting the surface climate will cool also.

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Sunspot update October 2018: Deepening minimum

The monthly NOAA update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for October 2018, was released yesterday. As I have done every month since this website began in July 2011, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

Though there was a tiny uptick in sunspot activity on the Sun in October, the uptick was inconsequential. Overall, the activity in the past few months appears to closely match the weak activity seen in late 2007 and early 2008, just when the last solar minimum began.

October 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.

As I noted in August, the NOAA graph is now getting very close to its right edge, which ends in December 2018. They will very soon have to update this graph so that it can take us into the next solar cycle. While they must do this, it will unfortunately end the standard visual used by them for more than a decade for showing the progress of the solar cycle. Depending on how they change it, I might be able adapt it to include this graph to allow a continuation of the same visual into the future. We will have to see.

Having seen now the full solar maximum for this cycle (weak and short), we are now moving to the next question: Will the developing solar minimum be as long and as deep as the last? Will it evolve into a grand minimum, lasting decades, as some solar scientists believe?

Or will the Sun return to the higher levels of activity seen during most of the 24 solar cycles observed since the last grand minimum in the 1600s?

Since our understanding of these changes is very poor, your guess is likely as good as anyone else’s. All we can really do is keep our eyes open and watch what happens.

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Sunspot update September 2018: Minimum!

NOAA yesterday released its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for September 2018. As I have done every month since this website began in July 2011, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

Sunspot activity on the Sun in September dropped slightly from August. More significantly, the activity continues to match closely the weak activity seen in 2008, when the Sun last went through its last solar minimum. We are unquestionably now in the new minimum, and its arrival in the past few months makes the now-ending solar cycle about one to two years shorter than predicted.

September 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.

As I noted last month, the NOAA graph is now getting very close to its right edge, which ends in December 2019. They will very soon have to update this graph so that it can take us into the next solar cycle.

What that new cycle will bring will be the next mystery. I have been following this cycle now since its unusual beginning, with a solar minimum much much longer and more inactive than any solar scientist had ever expected. We can only guess at the surprises the Sun will give us in the coming decade, especially since the science of solar sunspot activity remains superficial and in its infancy. We do not really understand why the Sun’s activity fluctuates. Nor do we understand why it periodically stops producing sunspots for long periods, resulting in what solar scientists call a grand minimum.

There are some scientists who think another grand minimum is coming. We shall have to wait and see. I certainly am going to follow their upcoming observations, as this work remains one of the great scientific studies humans are presently pursuing.

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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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Sunspot update for July 2018: The Sun flatlines!

Yesterday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for July 2018. As I do every month, I am posting it below, annotated to give it some context.

This might be the most significant month of solar activity that has been observed since Galileo. Except for two very short-lived and very weak sunspots that observers hardly noted, the Sun was blank for entire month of July. This has not happened since 2009, during the height of the last solar minimum.

What makes this so significant and unique is that it almost certainly signals the return of the next solar minimum, a return that comes more than a year early. The solar cycle the Sun is now completing has only been ten years long. It is also one of the weakest in more than a hundred years. This combination is unprecedented. In the past such a weak cycle required a long cycle, not a short one.
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Sunspot update for June 2018: Activity increases again

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for June 2018. Below is this month’s annotated graph.

For the third straight month the Sun showed a small increase in sunspot activity. The pattern also continued to follow the two-week-on/two-week-off pattern of activity caused by the Sun’s 27-day rotation, as I described in my update last month.

June 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. The yellow line compares the present activity with the activity during solar minimum in 2008 and 2009.

This pattern is continuing. As of today, there have been no sunspots since June 28, almost two weeks. I would not be surprised if some sunspots appeared within the next week, especially because today’s image of the Sun from Solar Dynamic Observatory shows bright faculae rotating into view. Faculae are, like sunspots, a sign of solar magnetic activity. The two usually go together.

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Sunspot update for May 2018: Solar activity hangs on

NOAA yesterday posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for May 2018. As I do every month, I have annotated the graph and posted it below.

The small uptick in sunspots that we saw in April after the low in March continued.

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Sunspot update for April 2018: Heading into solar minimum

On Sunday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for April 2018. Below is my annotated version of that graph.

While there was an uptick in sunspots in April, compared to the almost complete inactivity in March (the least active month for sunspots in a decade), the uptick did little to change the general trend. Sunspot activity is now comparable to what we saw in early 2008 (as indicated by the yellow line). This was just before the arrival of the previous solar minimum, which happened to also be one of the longest and deepest on record.

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The first sunspots of the next solar cycle

In linking to my sunspot update this week, there has been a lot of speculation at the climate website WattsUpWithThat that the next solar cycle has begun.

Our resident solar physicist, Dr. Leif Svalgaard commented and provided a link to something reported by his colleagues, something that likely would not have been possible without the fantastic solar observations of NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observeratory (SDO). He said: “Cycle 25 has already begun. It looks to me that SC25 will be a bit stronger than SC24, so probably no Grand Minimum this time.” It seems a small sunspot has been observed, that has the opposite polarity of cycle 24 sunspots. [emphasis in original]

The speculation at WattsUpWithThat, which suggested that this sunspot was the first such sunspot this cycle, was not quite accurate however. This sunspot with an opposite polarity, which decayed so quickly that it did not rate getting a sunspot number, was not the first. This week the Solar-Terrestrial Centre of Excellence, a Belgian organization focused on space-solar science, published this very good article discussing not only this sunspot but two others, one of which occurred more than a year ago.
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Sunspot update for February 2018

It’s time for my monthly sunspot update. On Sunday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for February 2018. Below the fold is my annotated version of that graph.

Sunspot activity in February continued the low activity seen in November, December, and January, with November 2017 still the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009. In fact, the low activity we are seeing now is somewhat comparable to the low activity seen during the ramp down to solar minimum in the first half of 2008. By the end of that year we had hit solar minimum, the deepest and longest in a hundred years, suggesting that we might even hit solar minimum before the end of this year. That would have this happen at least a year earlier than all predictions.
» Read more

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Sunspot update for January 2018

Today NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for January 2018. Below is my annotated version of that graph.

As you can see, the low sunspot activity of the past two months continued in January. November 2017 remains the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009. January is now the second most inactive month, with December a very close third.

January 2018 Solar Cycle graph

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.

Though activity continues to track close to but considerably below the 2007 weak prediction, the difference appears to be increasing as the ramp down to solar minimum continues. While I have said in past updates that the trend suggests an early arrival of the solar minimum, a close look at the previous ramp down in 2007 and 2008 shows that when activity became this weak, the ramp down slowed considerably. This previous pattern suggests that we could see another year or two of similarly low activity before the minimum arrives.

Regardless, the low activity, this soon, continues to suggest that the next maximum will also be weak, and might even not come at all, as some solar scientists have proposed. Instead, we might be heading toward another Grand Minimum, with no significant sunspots for decades.

Will that Grand Minimum produce cold weather worldwide, as it appears to have done during the last Grand Minimum in the 1600s? There is circumstantial evidence in the past decade that it might. We will not know, however, until it happens, and that possibility remains very uncertain.

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Sunspot update for December 2017

The precipitous decline in sunspots continues. While November 2017 remains the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009, December was a very close second.

Below is my annotated version of NOAA’s monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for December, which they posted on Sunday.

December 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

December 2017 sunspot record

The graph on the right, produced by SILSO (Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations) on December 31, shows only 14 days during the month when there were sunspots active on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. This is only four more days then seen in November. And like November, the few sunspots were weak, resulting in tiny sunspot numbers total.

The first graph above illustrates how weak this on-going sunspot cycle has been. While the curve most closely matches the 2007 weak prediction of half the solar science community, it has one very notable difference. The actual ramp up to solar maximum started two years later than predicted, even though it appears to be ending when that prediction expected. The result is a very very short solar cycle, something that has historically always been associated with very active and intense sunspot activity. Instead, this short cycle has only seen weak activity, generally below all the predictions.

All signs continue to point to an early arrival of solar minimum. They also suggest that the next maximum will also be weak, and might even not come at all, as some solar scientists have proposed. Instead, we might be heading toward another Grand Minimum, with no significant sunspots for decades.

So, is it cold outside right now? Well, that’s weather, not climate. Nonetheless, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that few sunspots correspond with a cooling climate on Earth. (The last grand minimum occurred in the 1600s, during what was called the Little Ice Age.) There is even some preliminary evidence to suggest that cosmic rays might be a cause. (Watch the video at the end of this link.).

Whether any of this will happen however remains unknown. We will need to wait to find out.

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The Sun goes quiet! Sunspot update for November 2017

The past month was the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009, when the last solar minimum was just ending and the Sun was beginning its ramp up to solar maximum.

NOAA on Sunday posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for November. As I have done every month since 2010, I have posted that graph below, with annotations.

November 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

I have also added a straight yellow line near the bottom of the graph, indicating how the lack of activity this past month corresponds with the lack of activity in the summer of 2009, just when that unusually long and deep solar minimum was beginning to end.

November 2017 sunspot record

To get an idea how few sunspots were seen in November, the graph on the right, produced by SILSO (Sunspot Index and Long-term Solar Observations) on December 1, shows only 10 days during the entire month when any sunspots were active on the Sun’s visible hemisphere. And even those sunspot were few and weak, resulting in tiny sunspot numbers total.

Nor is December looking any different, with no sunspots recorded so far, four days into the month.

The plunge to solar minimum continues to appear to be happening faster than normal. At this pace, solar minimum will arrive in early 2018, making this one of the shortest solar cycles on record. That in itself would be unprecedented, as short cycles in the past have always accompanied very active solar maximums, not weak maximums like the maximum we have just seen.

I still expect the ramp down to solar minimum to slow down and stretch out to 2019, as would be more normal, but I also would not bet any money on this expectation, at this point.

The big question remains: Will the solar cycle continue as normal after this upcoming solar minimum, or will we instead see our first grand minimum since the Maunder Minimum in the 1600s, a period lasting for about a century with no obvious sunspots that also corresponded to the Little Ice Age?

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Sunspot update for October 2017

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for October. That graph is posted below, with annotations.

October 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

After two straight months of rising sunspot activity, the number of sunspots plunged in October, returning the numbers almost exactly back to the general trend we have seen since 2014 when the solar maximum ended. While the short two month increase indicated that the minimum will not occur as soon as this long term trend suggests, the quick return to that trend this month suggests that it will.

Meanwhile, November is six days old and has yet to see any sunspots at all.

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Sunspot update for September 2017

On Sunday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for September. That graph is posted below, with annotations.

September 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

Last month saw the strongest amount of sunspot activity in a year, thus helping to bring the pace in the decline of sunspot activity back towards the low prediction from April 2007. This also suggests that the ramp down to solar minimum will continue through 2019, with minimum not occurring before then, at the earliest. At the same time, the increase in sunspot activity seen in September seems to have eased in October, with the return of a blank Sun this past week.

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Sunspot update for August 2017

Yesterday NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for August. That graph is posted below, with annotations.

August 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

The long slow decline to solar minimum has now shown itself. Up until now, the ramp down from solar maximum had been fast and steep, unlike past solar cycles where the ramp down is slow and steady. The last few months the ramp down had practically ceased. In this August graph the ramp down turned into a temporary ramp up. Considering the strong activity going on right now as well as the past week, I expect the September numbers to also show this increase.

None of this means that the ramp down has ended, or that we will not see a solar minimum. All it means is that it takes awhile for the Sun to slowly calm down after each solar maximum. The sunspots we are seeing right now, all near the equator, are from the solar cycle now slowly ending. We will know the minimum is coming as well as the next solar maximum when the first tiny and rare sunspots appear in high latitudes. These high latitude sunspots will belong to the next cycle, and will have reversed polarity.

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Sunspot update for July 2017

NOAA today posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for July. As I have done every month since 2010, the graph is posted below, with annotations.

July 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

Sunspot activity in July remained almost exactly the same as in both May and June. This is the first indication that this cycle’s ramp down from solar maximum will follow the standard pattern of a slow and extended decline to minimum. Up until now the drop in sunspot activity has been as fast as the increase during ramp up. Historically the ramp down has instead been slower, sloping downward gently and over a much longer time period. The last few months suggest that this cycle’s end is beginning to resemble past cycles.

Meanwhile, a review of past solar cycles by German scientists suggests that a cyclical cooling period in the Sun’s output is coming, and that such ups and downs can be tracked in the solar record.

In order to elucidate the solar influence, we have used a large number of temperature proxies worldwide to construct a global temperature mean G7 over the last 2000 years. The Fourier spectrum of G7 shows the strongest components as ~1000-, ~460-, and ~190 – year periods whereas other cycles of the individual proxies are considerably weaker. The G7 temperature extrema coincide with the Roman, medieval, and present optima as well as the well-known minimum of AD 1450 during the Little Ice Age. We note that the temperature increase of the late 19th and 20th century is represented by the harmonic temperature representation, and thus is of pure multiperiodic nature. It can be expected that the periodicity of G7, lasting 2000 years so far, will persist also for the foreseeable future. It predicts a temperature drop from present to AD 2050, a slight rise from 2050 to 2130, and a further drop from AD 2130 to 2200. [emphasis mine]

Note that this prediction is not based on any real understanding of the Sun’s sunspot cycle or what causes any variations in its brightness. All they have done is extrapolate into the future the patterns of past fluctuations. This is as if a weatherman averaged how many times it normally rains in your town, and then predicted rain in the next few days merely by those averages. “It rains on average every three days, so because it rained yesterday expect no rain for the next two days!”

Nonetheless, the past fluctuations seem to follow a cyclical pattern, and thus also appear to confirm other studies that suggest we are heading towards another grand minimum, with no sunspots for decades, which also in the past corresponded with cooler global temperatures.

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New data suggests Sun undergoing fundamental changes

The uncertainty of science: New data, when compared with similar data collected over decades, suggests the Sun’s solar cycle is undergoing some fundamental changes.

In work just published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the team shows that the interior of the Sun has changed in recent years, and that these changes persist in the current cycle. In combination with theoretical models, the observations suggest that the magnetic field distribution in the outer layers may have become a bit thinner. Other seismic data shows that the rotation rate of the Sun has also undergone some changes in the way the Sun rotates at different latitudes.

“Again, this is not how it used to be and the rotation rate has slowed a bit at latitudes around about 60 degrees. We are not quite sure what the consequences of this will be but it’s clear that we are in unusual times. However, we are beginning to detect some features belonging to the next cycle and we can suggest that the next minimum will be in about two years,” says Elsworth.

First, they don’t know what will happen because of these changes. Second, their data confirms that the solar minimum will occur in about two years, which would make this cycle only 9 years long, one of the shortest but also one of the weakest that has been observed, two things that previously had never gone together.

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Sunspot update for June 2017

Today NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for June. As I have done every month since 2010, the graph is posted below, with annotations.

June 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

Sunspot activity in June was almost exactly the same as in May, and thus continued the overall downward trend that is below the 2007 low prediction and that suggests that this very weak solar maximum will end much earlier than predicted, and will make it an unprecedented short but weak cycle. The Sun is once again blank today for the first time in about two weeks, repeating the pattern we have seen for several months where, because one hemisphere of the Sun is blank while the other hemisphere has some sunspots, the rise and fall of the sunspot counts tracks the 27-day solar rotation almost precisely.

There continues to be evidence that the Sun is undergoing significant changes this solar cycle, all of which are pointing to the possibility that a grand minimum is coming, with no sunspots for decades. And as I have said now monthly for six years, past grand minimums have consistently occurred at the same time the Earth’s climate has cooled. The scientific link remains unclear, but if we should undergo a grand minimum in the coming decades, we will finally have the opportunity to find out what that link is.

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Sunspot update for May 2017

Last week NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for May. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a problem with their posting software. Though the date of the image changed, the graph itself was not updated. I contacted NOAA, and Ann Newman, IT Specialist at NOAA’s
Space Weather Prediction Center, took a look and quickly fixed the problem.

The corrected graph is posted below, with annotations, as I have done now every month since 2010.

May 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

The decline in sunspot activity resumed in May, putting the trend back below the 2007 low prediction. Overall, the trend continues to suggest that this very weak solar maximum will end much earlier than predicted, and will make it an unprecedented short but weak cycle. As the Sun is at this moment blank, and has been for several days, I expect that June will end up with low numbers as well, continuing this trend.

As I have repeatedly said now monthly for six years, if history is any guide, the Sun’s low activity should correspond with cooler temperatures here on Earth. Why this happens is not yet understood, though there are theories.

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Sunspot update for April 2017

Today NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for April. It is posted below, with annotations, as I have done now every month since 2010.

April 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

April showed an uptick in sunspot activity, enough to move the numbers back up above the 2007 low prediction. Nonetheless, activity as the cycle has been ramping down has consistently and generally remained below expectation, and does seem heading to an early arrival of solar minimum, sometime in late 2019 or early 2020, about a year early.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, as I have written this practically every month since I started these updates in 2010, but this short and weak solar maximum suggests the possibility that we might be facing a grand minimum, where there are no significant sunspots for decades. Some solar scientists think this is coming. Others are much more doubtful. Regardless, we can only wait and watch, while also recognizing that weak solar maximums and grand minimums have in the past consistently coincided with global cool weather. The reasons why this has happened are not yet known, but it has happened nonetheless.

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Sunspot update for March 2017

On April 3, while I was in the Grand Canyon, NOAA posted its monthly update of the solar cycle, covering sunspot activity for March. As I have been doing every month since 2010, I am posting it here with annotations to give it context.

March 2017 Solar Cycle graph

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.

The decline in sunspots continues to run below predictions, suggesting an end to this solar cycle and a solar minimum as early as sometime in 2018. And as I noted in my February update, sunspot activity continues to track the Sun’s 27 day rotation, alternating every two weeks between blank and active hemispheres. We had the longest stretch, more than two weeks, without sunspots in March. This was followed by about two weeks of activity, followed by several blank days and a relatively inactive Sun at present, beginning a little less than a week ago. I expect this period of inactivity to last another ten days or so, and then things will pick up again.

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