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.
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
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.
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.