The Suns photosphere is looking particulary boring (NASA/SOHO)

Where are the Sunspots? Are we in for a Quiet Solar Cycle?

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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So what’s up with our Sun? Is it going through a depression? It seems as if our closest star is experiencing a surprisingly uneventful couple of years. Solar minimum has supposedly passed and we should be seeing a lot more magnetic activity, and we certainly should be observing lots more sunspots. Space weather forecasts have been putting Solar Cycle 24 as a historically active cycle… but so far, nothing. So what’s the problem? Is it a ticking bomb, waiting to shock us with a huge jump in solar activity, flares and CMEs over a few months? Or could this lack of activity a prelude to a very boring few years, possibly leading the Earth toward another Ice Age?

It’s funny. Just as we begin to get worried that the next solar maximum is going to unleash all sorts of havoc on Earth (i.e. NASA’s 2006 solar storm warning), scientists begin to get concerned as to whether there is going to be a solar maximum at all. In a conference last week at Montana State University, solar physicists discussed the possibility that the Sun could be facing a long period of calm, leading to the concern that there could be another Maunder Minimum. The Maunder Minimum (named after the late 19th Century solar astronomer Edward W. Maunder, who discovered the phenomenon) was a 17th Century, 30-year period when very few sunspots were observed on the disk of the Sun. It is thought by many scientists that this period contributed to what became known as the “Little Ice Age” here on Earth. As the Sun provides Earth with all its energy, during extended periods when the solar output is lower than average, it seems possible a lack of sunspots on the Sun (i.e. low activity) may be linked with periods of cold down here.

It continues to be dead. That’s a small concern, a very small concern.” – Saku Tsuneta, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and program manager for the Hinode solar mission.

However, solar physicists are not too worried about this possibility, after all, it’s only been two years since solar minimum. Although activity has been low for the beginning of Cycle 24, sunspots have not been non-existent. In January of this year, a newborn spot was observed, as expected, in high latitude regions. More spots were seen in April. In March, sunspots from the previous solar cycle even made an appearance, putting on an unexpected show of flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

As pointed out by David Hathaway, a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the fact that sunspots have already been observed in this new cycle means that it is highly unlikely we face anything as extreme as another Maunder Minimum. Hathaway says there is nothing unusual about having a relatively understated solar cycle after several particularly active cycles. Solar Cycle 23 was a very active period for the Sun with a greater than average number of sunspots observed on the solar surface.

It appears there are two different predictions for the activity level of the next solar cycle. On the one hand we have scientists that think this cycle might be below average, and on the other hand we have scientists who believe the next cycle will be the biggest yet. We certainly have a long way to go before we can begin making any accurate solar forecasts…

Source: Space.com


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Chris Lintott
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Chris Lintott
June 12, 2008 2:52 PM
I haven’t seen a single paper which predicts – from current sunspot data – that we’re likely to be heading for another ice age. Actually, I haven’t seen any indication in the technical literature that we’re entering a Maunder minimum like period (and remember – we only have climate data for Western Europe during that time; I admit that the coincidence is striking, but still). If you have, please link to the papers. If you haven’t, can I politely plead for more care – there is a lot of nonsense talked about the influence of the Sun on climate, including unfounded claims that it might be responsible for global warming, and that means that all of us have… Read more »
tacitus
Member
June 12, 2008 12:42 PM

Where are the 2012 doomsayers when you need them?

Nathan
Guest
Nathan
June 12, 2008 12:50 PM

There have actually already been a few (small) sunspots for the new solar cycle. If you look at the latest SOHO images you will also notice that there is a small sunspot that just came into view a couple days ago. You’re MDI image isn’t quite up to date, I think…

George
Member
George
June 12, 2008 1:36 PM

Well no wonder there are no Sunspots, that’s not the Sun!! That must be Antares or some other M class ORANGE star. *wink*

[Helio101]

Duwang
Guest
Duwang
June 12, 2008 1:59 PM

Great! Global warming! Ice age! WTF!!!!!!!!

starman
Member
starman
June 12, 2008 3:05 PM

The really disturbing thing is that there is no reliable predictive capability after so many years of “accepted” solar theory. Time to look at alternatives and question the standard model. I’m not optimistic that will take place in the mainstream anytime soon.

Peter
Guest
Peter
June 12, 2008 6:58 PM

Chris quoth:

“…there is a lot of nonsense talked about the influence of the Sun on climate” ???!

Of course, it’s foolish to suppose that the Sun should have any influence whatever on climate. How could we ever imagine such a thing…

Polzer
Guest
Polzer
June 12, 2008 6:59 PM

Man must have somehow caused this lol

David R.
Member
David R.
June 12, 2008 7:57 PM

Solar cooling is a serious problem that we must fix at once. If everybody does their part, we can stop the solar inactivity now, before the point of no return. Write your congressional representative now and ask for maximum funding to stop solar cooling activity. An ice age is no laughing matter. We must start heating now.

Chuck Lam
Guest
Chuck Lam
June 13, 2008 4:34 AM

Yikes! We must be doomed! Oops! Sorry guys. I overlooked the fact this is a NASA prediction. What was I thinking?

Duane
Guest
Duane
June 13, 2008 3:14 AM

At what point does this became a ‘below average cycle’ and turn into a Maunder minimum?

UNCLEDOUGIE
Member
UNCLEDOUGIE
June 13, 2008 1:58 AM

There are only two words you really need to know about current Solar science or AGW: Habibullah Abdussamatov, Do a Wiki on him and also on on the rooski project Astrometria. Here’s a clue for those that want a scientific peer-reviewed article:

http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2005KFNT…21..471A

I don’t read books by politicians, and I don’t watch the Imbecilivision. My money is on this Rooski. I also question the motivations of the Hockey Stick liars.

JamesB
Guest
JamesB
June 13, 2008 2:47 AM

Chris L. – Ok, how about a talk given at a recent international climate change conference earlier this year on this very subject:

http://ncwatch.typepad.com/dalton_minimum_returns/files/Solar_Arch_NY_Mar2_08.pdf

Or how about this paper on solar activity and the predictions for Cycle 24:

http://users.telenet.be/j.janssens/SC24Clilverd.pdf

And this paper that tackles the question directly:

http://www.griffith.edu.au/conference/ics2007/pdf/ICS176.pdf

Both of those are published, peer reviewed papers (showing that even if you DIDN’T know about it, such papers REALLY do exist!).

And this paper as well:

http://icecap.us/images/uploads/solarcyclestory.pdf

It only takes opening one’s eyes and web browser to find that the science isn’t settled and that there is MORE scientific evidence that contradicts the AGW theory than supports it.

James

fred
Guest
fred
June 13, 2008 3:09 AM

Oh no, shes about to blow!

Hemal Shah
Guest
Hemal Shah
June 13, 2008 3:29 AM

Billions of years of age. How can we predict the future of such a think by observing it for merely few hundred years. Isn’t it like a pimple on someone’s face.

We do not know the exact dynamics of Sun. Sunspots does tell us about the activities happening on the surface and at a little depth. But, those are the results of the things happened probably thousands of years earlier.

Hemal

John thomas
Guest
John thomas
June 13, 2008 4:04 AM

Boy I sure hope the Sun is not running out of fuel. You would think that sooner or later it would run out of fuel.

JT
http://www.anondo.alturl.com

Al Hall
Member
Al Hall
June 13, 2008 5:40 AM

It’s the calm before the storm…

Eric Near Buffalo
Guest
Eric Near Buffalo
June 13, 2008 9:22 AM
Maybe we just need to send a mission to the Sun with lots of nukes to restart it, kinda like that HORRIBLE movie “The Core” where scientists bored into the Earth with nukes to restart the cooling core. Bleh, what a steaming pile. Seriously though, I wouldn’t be worried about the lack of solar maximum-esque activity. The Sun is a very massive ball of nuclear fusion. I’m sure it’s possible that there isn’t an exact way of predicting what the Sun’s cycles will start and finish like. Maybe it will be a hypo-active Solar Maximum. If it is, that could be a good thing for us with the climate slowly rising. It just won’t be a permanent solution… Read more »
Will
Guest
Will
June 13, 2008 3:35 PM

We ham radio operators have been waiting 7 years for this sun spot cycle to start. What a bummer!

PILGRIM
Guest
PILGRIM
June 13, 2008 6:13 PM

Okay, this is all very fascinating. One of my many question is: what determines/defines a “solar period”? According to what phenomena/predictable cyclic recurrance?

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