Sunspots 2014: Has solar maximum finally been reached?

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NASA/SDO: On 5/15/2014 a solar coronal 'grand canyon' was observed

AUSTIN, June 3, 2014 – Chances are good that 75.4 will be the official solar maximum for sun cycle 24.

Another month, another sunspot record. For the fourth month in a row a solar maximum record high was set while, remarkably, May was the third month in a row that the monthly sunspot number dropped.

This is likely the last month for record highs.

SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels: New solar maximum set in May
SILSO data, Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels: New solar maximum set in May

On June 1, The Royal Observatory of Belgium released the official sunspot number for May. It is 75.2 spots/day.


It is puzzling to think that new record highs keep getting set while the monthly sunspot number keeps falling.

The reason is solar maximum is a 13-month smoothed average calculation, so it trails the monthly sunspot count by six months. The new records reflect what happened over the last year when the sun was more active. It is displayed as the blue “smoothed values” curve shown above.

The new sunspot peak rose modestly from 75.0 to 75.4 while the monthly sunspot average fell another nine spots from the previous month. May averaged 25 percent fewer spots/day than in February.

The new peak is right at physicist Leif Svalgaard’s 2004 prediction, though arriving years later than expected.

The end is near?

The sun is showing signs, this time, that it really is starting to drift down toward solar minimum.

Northern hemisphere magnetic flux switched polarity two years ago. That marked the north’s half way point. It’s sunspot counts last month dropped back near last year’s low levels. Southern hemisphere polarity switched last summer and its high water mark for second half activity appears to have been in February.

The sun is full of surprises, though, so you never know for sure what’s going to happen next.

Near-miss Carrington Event?

Wikipedia: Solar flare of August 31, 2012
Wikipedia: Solar flare of August 31, 2012

A Carrington Event (CE) is just about the scariest global-scale disaster facing today’s computer-driven, electronics-dependent world. Earthlings are totally unprepared for it.

New data that became public knowledge last month shows that we missed experiencing a global catastrophe by just one week in 2012. It came out at a gathering of scientists, government officials and emergency planners in Boulder, Colorado at a NOAA Space Weather Workshop.

A CE is a supersized solar flare. It’s named for Richard Carrington who witnessed the first mega-flare back in 1859 while doing his daily sunspot count. That event brought down the world’s telegraph system, the Internet of its time.

It might have been stronger than the Carrington Event itself… If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces.
-Professor Daniel N. Baker, University of Boulder

If it were to occur today, a CE would bring down electric power grids planet wide. Potentially, 100s of millions of electronic devices from personal computers, to cell phones, to GPS tracking, to aircraft controls, to the global financial systems could be permanently damaged. It would take years to repair.

Should a CE happen, there will only be about half a day’s warning to take cover.

A CE happened in 1859. There was a near-miss in 2012. Educated guessing suggests that the next one will strike within the next 200 years. Will earth be prepared?

Corrections to the 400-year sunspot record

The 4th and final Sunspot Number Workshop was held in Lacarno, Switzerland May 19-23.

This all-important conference among solar physicists was to finalize decisions on how the 400-year sunspot record is to be fixed. Counting errors have accumulated over the centuries. It’s a big deal.

It was hoped their findings would be summarized in a press release at the conclusion of the meetings. But, so far, they’ve been quieter than a church pulpit at midnight on a Saturday night.

Conclusions

Indications are that the latest sunspot record set last month will be the last for this cycle. Monthly sunspot averages have fallen rapidly for the last three months.

However, the sun is fickle. Just a year ago it looked like the current cycle was done for and was fading ignominiously toward solar minimum. Then the sun came roaring back to life in October to generate one of the largest secondary peaks in the entire 400-year recorded history of sunspot activity.

Now, though, it looks like the sun may be headed toward solar minimum again, this time for real. Late cycle indicators are breaking out all over the place.

The good news is, as we slip toward solar minimum, it reduces the chances for another Carrington Event until next solar max.

Perhaps, by this time next month, the 32 closed-mouthed attendees at the Lacarno sunspot workshop will end their silence. Many wait with baited breath for their final results.

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  • NikolaMilovic

    Is there at all any purpose to discuss the phenomena that we can say something after their completion. Does anyone from any institution or science wants to participate in something completely new, related to the appearance of the sun and their true and underlying causes.

    If anyone, who is interested in this phenomenon, wants to solve this enigma, it seems to me that I have an idea and a good proof why all of this and that way happens. Help me and show me where I can give my findings about it, but only if: correspondence with contractual obligations. I will provide the data, and any powerful institution or the government will finance all this until they get that budget to get out of them can find the behavior of these phenomena at all times. If this is true, and I say it is, then, whether on earth there is anyone who would not want to resolve it and the fan that humanity knows almost everything about it. I feel that 99 percent of people do not believe this, but they are mistaken. What kind of man would I be if I write for a izivljavljanja or entertainment. Take it seriously, please in the interest of humanity. If this resolve that has incalculable benefits and who it is who make this one gave you on how to earn profits. This is the highest level of scientific achievement and in this test the powerful desire to resolve this for the benefit of future generations. Expect help, and if it fails, then we did not deserve to something better and learn more.

    Nikola

    • Steve Davidson

      If you have data or calculations that can add clarification to our understanding of the sun, I’d be happy to pass it on to Dr. Leif Svalgaard at Stanford. He’s one of the world’s leading solar physicists. He is surprisingly accessible.

      But be advised, from afar I’ve seen him poke holes in rubbish theories with the skill of a surgeon. His “take no prisoners” style is intimidating, he cuts them to ribbons. However, when you are right you have a powerful ally.

  • Steve Davidson

    Perhaps a clarifying explanation for readers is in order…

    This article is one in an ongoing series of monthly solar sunspot reports I write after the Royal Observatory of Belgium publishes the official monthly sunspot number for the previous month.

    Its purpose is to report the most current results from Belgium and speculate on their meaning. It also includes news and information from the world of solar physics that occurred that month.

    The monthly sunspot number is the average number of spots counted each day by about 60 observers world-wide. Belgium is the official keeper of those counts. The daily, monthly and yearly sunspot numbers are used to track the 11-year sunspot cycle.

    The record of sunspot activity officially starts in 1749, but the practice dates back to Galileo and the invention of the telescope. It’s the longest continuously monitored measurement in all of science.

  • Alan Poirier

    Landscheidt’s predictions look like they will come true. Interesting.

    • Steve Davidson

      I had not heard of Landscheidt. Interesting. I studied astronomy at the University of Arizona, worked as an undergraduate public lecturer at the on-campus Steward Observatory and was a planetarium director in Oregon for a couple years.

      They say you learn something new every day. Landscheidt is mine for today.

      • Alan Poirier

        Very interesting man, Landscheidt. He wrote a number of peer reviewed papers. His theories on solar activity being affected by the Jovian planets went out of favor, but there is a revival, because his predictions are coming true. Specifically, he called for a Dalton minimum beginning in the next years, followed by a Maunder minimum by 2030. If he’s right, we’re in for a whole lot of hurt.