Sunspot Pair Observed Today – Is Solar Cycle 24 Waking Up?

Amateur astronomers have observed the first sunspots to appear on the solar surface for weeks. This period of extreme magnetic calm has made some scientists believe that Solar Cycle 23 might be a quiet affair. This comes in stark contrast to NASA’s 2006 forecast that this cycle would be a “doozy.” Whether or not the slow start of solar activity is indicative of things to come, we’re not sure, but it sure is great to see activity starting to churn on the solar surface once more…

The sunspots as observed in the UK (© Pete Lawrence)
The sunspots as observed in the UK (© Pete Lawrence)

Ever since the official beginning of Solar Cycle 24 at the start of the year, when a sunspot pair was observed with opposite magnetic polarity to spots in the previous cycle, we have been (im)patiently watching the solar disk for activity. In a 2006 article, NASA had already gotten us excited that Cycle 24 would be more active than the previous cycle (a record breaker in itself), but after that first observed spot in January, nothing. By June, even seasoned solar physicists were hinting at their concerns for the lack of activity. “It continues to be dead. That’s a small concern, a very small concern,” said Saku Tsuneta, program manager for the Hinode mission and Japanese solar physics heavyweight at a June conference. Although nobody seriously hinted that this cycle was going to continue to be dead for the whole cycle, there was some confusion about the nature of our Sun.

To make the situation even more cloudy, back in March, we had a false alarm. Suddenly, the Sun erupted to life, only three months after the start of Cycle 24 was announced. Sunspots, flares and Coronal Mass Ejections sprung to life around the solar equator. You would have been forgiven for thinking the Sun was going to make good on the NASA 2006 forecast. But it wasn’t to be. Critically, these active sunspots were “left overs” from the previous cycle. Like revellers turning up an hour after the party had finished, these sunspots were overlapping remainders of the previous cycle.

At the root of all these observations is space weather prediction. All our activities in space are in some way influenced by solar activity, so it would be advantageous if we could predict when the next solar storm is coming. We have complex models of the Sun and our observational skills are becoming more and more sophisticated, but we still have a very basic grasp on what makes the Sun “tick.”

So today’s discovery, although a little overdue, will excite solar physicists and astronomers the world over. But will the solar activity continue? Is this just an isolated occurrence? For now, we just do not know. We have to sit back, observe and enjoy what surprises the Sun has in store for us in Cycle 24.

Original source: Space Weather

11 Replies to “Sunspot Pair Observed Today – Is Solar Cycle 24 Waking Up?”

  1. Right . . . . .

    Not sure what you’re getting at but I don’t think it has much to do with the article.

    If you are referring to the Sun being the main cause of global warming, you’d be mistaken. The vast consensus from world scientists is that we are the root of carbon dioxide emissions causing global average rises in temperature. (Yes, some scientists disagree, but that’s their choice.)

    Why this has anything to do with observations of sunspots I’m not sure; I have far meatier articles on the subject, see There is No Sun-Link with Global Warming. Go have fun with that one 😉

    Cheers, Ian

  2. Who is Khabibullo Ismailovich Abdusamatov?
    What is the Astrometria Project and what are its goals?
    How many different solar cycles are there?
    Where is the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory located?
    Was 1998 the last year that Earth warmed?

    Please send answers to Ian.

  3. UncleDougie will believe anything which allows him to continue his polluting lifestyle with a clear conscience.

    Human beings’ activities have resulted in changes to the environment in many areas, and GW is one of the most serious… the vast majority of scientists support this view. If there was only one scientist who supported UncleDougie’s view, he would, no doubt be championing that scientist.

    I find it amazing and depressing that people like this pounce upon any shred of scientific data which (to their mind) supports their view, while disregarding the vast bulk of data which does not.

  4. Don’t see why solar astronomers wouldn’t be excited about a ‘dead’ cycle – there’s nothing more exciting than the unexpected.

  5. I’m glad to see some activity. I’ve been watching the Sun for weeks and it is disappointing to see a featureless yellow-white ball of gas day after day.

    Now maybe I can go after the Sunspotter’s Award.

  6. Ian,
    How does the polarity of a sunspot become observable and how can it be determined?

  7. Just noting that Cycle 24 does not officially start until there are more Cycle 24 sunspots (with the reversed polarity) than there are Cycle 23 spots.

    There have only been 3 Cycle 24 spots so far since January and a few dozen Cycle 23 spots so we are still in Cycle 23.

    If these new ones are Cycle 24 (which no one seems sure of right now) and there are very few more Cycle 23 spots in the future, the official start of Cycle 24 will be August 2008. Chances are, however, we are still 6 months or more away from the official start of 24.

  8. This new pair are cycle 23 spots:

    SC23: Nothern Hemisphere: left black, right white
    SC23 Southern Hemisphere: left white, right black
    SC24: Northern Hemisphere: left white, right black
    SC24: Southern Hemisphere: left black, right while

    The IPS today has extended SC 23 predicted end by 6 months.

  9. Ian,

    I am neutral on the causes of climate change, not being competent to judge the matter. One thing I do know, however, is that science does not proceed by “consensus”. If it did, we would still believe that the Earth is at the centre of the solar system. In fact, science proceeds by the very opposite of consensus. That is how progress is made, and it is why the views of dissentient scientists should be treated with respect, and not just rubbished.

    Best wishes,


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