Western Perspectives

Sunspots 2014: February is record-breaking month

By , Communities Digital News

NASA Goddard: Large X4.9-class solar flare on Feb. 25, 2014
NASA Goddard: Large X4.9-class solar flare on Feb. 25, 2014

SALEM Ore., Mar. 1, 2014 —  It’s not your imagination. The numbers are in. February was a very active solar sunspot month.

Highlights for last month include:

  • Monthly sunspot number sets Cycle 24 record high
  • Smoothed sunspot peak sets Cycle 24 record high
  • Dramatic return of long-lived sunspot AR1967
  • First time that second peak exceeds first since 1960
  • Recorded most southern hemisphere sunspots since 2001

The Royal Observatory of Belgium’s Solar Information Data Center (SIDC) released the official sunspot tallies for February this morning. February averaged 102.8 spots a day. That’s the first time this cycle it has broke the century mark.  It’s the highest count since September of 2002.

Author: Data from SIDC and NASA

Author: Data from SIDC and NASA

More significantly, though, the monthly smoothed average set a new high for this cycle. That ups Cycle 24’s official sunspot peak to 68.9. It could go higher. This is the first time in the last five sunspot cycles that a secondary sunspot peak is higher than the first.

The all-important smoothed monthly sunspot number is a 13-month running average that determines the official sunspot peak for a given cycle. It’s displayed in light blue on the graph above.

Just last September the monthly sunspot number was a paltry 37. It appeared that sunspots were fading fast. A sudden resurgence tops them over 100, nearly tripled September’s level.

A sharp rise in sunspot activity like this hasn’t happened since early this cycle. The sun continues its dramatic second half theatrics. Eighty percent of the sun’s activity remains in the southern hemisphere. It’s 80.4 spot count last month is the most southern hemisphere sunspots in over 12 years.

The fiery return of AR1967

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Long-lived sunspot AR1967 made its third appearance coming around from the backside of the sun. It did so in grand style, too. It promptly popped off the third largest flare of the current solar cycle. It was a big X4.9-class flare!

AR1967 is a very large, active sunspot that is transiting the sun. It released the only other X-class flare of 2014 back in early January during its first transit appearance.

Individual sunspots don’t usually survive a whole rotation of the sun. Because of that they are renamed each new transit they make. AR1967 was previously called AR1944 during its first trip. Now it’s renamed AR1990 on its third trip around.

Conclusions

February was a very active sunspot month. Cycle 24 reached several milestones.

Last month had the highest monthly sunspot tally of the current cycle. It set a brand new sunspot Cycle 24 peak. Technically, the new peak was set last August because it’s calculated from a 13-month smoothed average.

Sunspot AR1967 is making an impressive third transit of the sun this year. It celebrated by releasing the third biggest solar flare of Cycle 24 on February 25th. It is just now coming into position to take direct aim at earth again.

If it releases another powerful X-class flare pointed at earth then it could wreck havoc with communications and electric power grids here on earth.

Despite February’s fireworks, Cycle 24 still remains the weakest sunspot cycle of the last 100 years.

Whether the current upward trend continues remains to be seen, but future indicators still suggest the sun is headed towards long-term slumber.



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Steve Davidson is a columnist, wilderness landscape photographer and former teacher, software developer and lecturer who writes about science, technology and the environment.

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  • Kevin Mark Bauer

    You can have a billion Sun Spots on the Sun,it doesn’t matter if there is no magnetic mixing and solar flares and even when there are flares,they are very weak in strength. That 4-9 X Flare was the strongest since 2012! The Sun’s magnetic field is still weakening and has not completed it’s reversal and the Earth’s Atmosphere is still shrinking though we are in a Solar Maximum.
    Peace Y

    • Steve Davidson

      There are a lot of sunspots, but not billions. They are counted everyday. The counts for February used to make the rightmost point in the graph above come from here:
      http://sidc.oma.be/sunspot-data/

      For the record; officially, the sun reversed around April of last year. That is shown in this graph:
      http://www.solen.info/solar/polarfields/polar.html

    • Steve Davidson

      You are correct that general sunspot magnetic field strength is declining.

      Two small items:
      1-There aren’t billions of sunspots. For 400 years they have been counted daily and reported monthly. The Royal Observatory of Belgium currently is the official keeper of those records.

      2-The sun’s magnetic polarity reversal for Cycle 24 was completed in April of 2013. We are in the midst of a strong second-half southern hemisphere period of activity.

      • Kevin Mark Bauer

        With activity on the Northern Hemisphere which indicates the reverse hasn’t completed itself yet,also something to do with the magnetic fields being another indicator. Yes I know there are not “billions” of Sunspots,was an exaggeration to make the point that although we have had quite a few Sunspots,the strength of the output is generally weak.We have not had 1 X-20 this entire cycle.
        Peace Y

        • Steve Davidson

          The magnetic field strength of sunspots has been in decline over the last three cycles. That decline is one of the reasons that most solar physicists believe that Cycle 25 will be an even weaker solar max than this one is.

          The Wilcox Solar Observatory, operated by Stanford University, tracks and reports the sun’s magnetic field. According to them the sun’s northern field reversed around May of 2012; the south reversed around April 2013.

      • Kevin Mark Bauer

        Two excellent channels on You Tube are Suspicious 0bservers and the Thunderbolts Project which is a proponent of the Electric Universe Model rather than the Standard Big Bang Model.
        Peace Y

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