New Solar Cycle Begins With New Year…

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a new solar cycle is about to begin. The original forecast for Solar Cycle 24 was slated for March 2008, but the action is already under way as the first magnetically reversed sunspot of the new 11-year cycle has already appeared in the Sun’s northern hemisphere! Will it be strong or will it be weak? Time will tell… But if you live in a high latitude northern area? Be on alert tonight!

Last April an international panel of solar experts forecast that Solar Cycle 24 would start in March 2008, plus or minus six months. Upcoming solar storms definitely lay ahead, but neither the NOAA Space Environment Center in coordination with an international panel of solar experts predict a record-breaker. The most recent activity forecast was predicted for March with the peak occurring in late 2011 or mid-2012—up to a year later than expected. While original forecasts put the beginning activity a last Fall, the delay has simply left the experts guessing.

During a solar cycle, the frequency of sunspots rises and falls and spotting new activity may mean that the action is just heating up. These areas of intense magnetic activity on the Sun, can affect Earth by disrupting electrical grids, airline and military communications, GPS signals and even cell phones. During periods of intense sunspot activity, known as solar storms, highly charged radiation from the Sun may head toward Earth…

“Our growing dependence on highly sophisticated, space-based technologies means we are far more vulnerable to space weather today than in the past,” said NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr.

What does that mean for the Blue Planet’s inhabitants? There’s nothing to fear… except perhaps that it might be cloudy! Increased activity is a wonderful time to begin studying sunspots for yourself and to keep a eye out for aurora activity. Solar cycle intensity is measured in maximum number of sunspots—dark blotches on the sun that mark areas of heightened magnetic activity. The more sunspots there are, the more likely it is that major solar storms will occur.

“By giving a long-term outlook, we’re advancing a new field—space climate—that’s still in its infancy,” said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of the NOAA National Weather Service. “Issuing a cycle prediction of the onset this far in advance lies on the very edge of what we know about the Sun.”

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation and the world. The NOAA Space Environment Center also is the world warning agency of the International Space Environment Service, a consortium of 11 member nations that generate a first alert of solar activity and its affects on Earth and you, too, can check out the information here! Stay tuned as “Universe Today” brings you guidelines on how you can solar observe and when you can possibly expect aurora in your area! As it stands, a high-speed solar wind stream is already buffeting Earth’s magnetic field and this could spark a geomagnetic storm. For high latitude observers, this means you may see the aurora tonight!!

13 Replies to “New Solar Cycle Begins With New Year…”

  1. I’m looking forward to solar viewing guidelines from you. I’ve been wanting to get started, but really don’t want to make any mistakes that could harm my eyes.

  2. You refer to “..the first magnetically reversed sunspot “, what does that mean and why is it ‘reversed’?

    By the way, I love your site. You are doing a great job, congratulations and thank you.


  3. As a family, we chipped in and bought the boys a 10″ Celestron scope with the full kit of filters and eyepieces. Can’t wait for your “how to’s” on watching solar activity.

  4. To answer : Michel, Says:
    January 6th, 2008 at 12:54 am
    You refer to “..the first magnetically reversed sunspot “, what does that mean and why is it ‘reversed’?

    The sun changes according to an approximate 22 year solar cycle. Every 11 years the north magnetic pole becomes the south and the south, the north every 11 years. Hence the 22 year solar cycle. The polarity of the sun spots indicate that the magnetic field are twisting and changing. The overall effect is to change the poles every 11 years. hope this answers part of your question

  5. Howdy!

    I’m glad to see everyone was excited as myself. I’ve been a long standing solar observer and look forward to some activity!

    First and foremost, don’t be afraid of solar acitivity… it’s been happening since before mankind appeared and we’re still here, eh? I am happy to see a reader understood solar physics enough to further explain what’s happening… and that’s the magnetic reversal of the poles and how that effects the sunspots. Perhaps Fraser wouldn’t mind if I elucidated a bit with another illustrated article?

    In the mean time, I will keep watch on the activity and will return with instructions on how to safely solar observe with simple equipment. Until something large comes along, we’ll wait… so DO NOT take chances with your eyes!

    Take the time to visit the SOHO site and enjoy their images. Remember that the Sun’s color in an image (or eyepiece) is effected by what type of filter is used at the time. Because it is imperative to block harmful light rays out, some filter’s bandpass reveals the Sun in an orange color, some the natural blue/white, and yet others in different colors across the spectrum depend on heat, etc… while yet others reveal only hydrogen-alpha lines or calcium-K!

    It’s a marvelous way to study a star up close… and I look forward to sharing it with you!

  6. Thank you very much Pwter B for the explaination, this is fascinating to think that the magnetic poles changes like that every 11 years. I presume it is a change in the direction of the magnetic field, not that the sun itself turns around! Do we know what causes this periodic change?

  7. I attended the Space Weather conference in Bouder last April. At that time, scientists were divided on the intensty of this next solar cycle. Still, since high intensity earth directed solar flares could effect cell phones, communications and such, I am wondering if we might start seeing solar flare forecasts with our weather forecasts? It’s my understanding that the Space Enviornmental Center in Boulder is under the direction of National Weather Service….Because solar activity can effect so many of us now, there might be a big demand for info on earth directed solar flares. Do any of you, like me, foresee a growing need for this info to be easily available to the general public?

  8. We are in danger of being roasted and toasted at any time . A large enough solar flare could wipe us out easily and is not predictable at this time. An Asteroid impact is also possible at any time , because of speeds possible and could come in from outside of the solar system. We also know the Earths magnetic poles are due to flip. We have recently had the alignment of all planets on one side of our system and the results, though slow, are impacting the Sun and system.

  9. is the solar cycle 24 & the earths magnetic reversal related to each other in any way……???

  10. For an interesting fictional, but plausible, account of the effects of a MASSIVE solar flare on Earth, check out a book titled “Solar Flare” by Larry Burkett.
    How’s that for a run-on sentence!

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