I’m not going to add much more than to say that its enjoyable and refreshing to see a senior scientist admit that they were wholly wrong in their predictions.
What Happened to 2006 Predictions of Huge Solar Cycle 24?
ISN’T IT ESPECIALLY STRANGE FOR YOU BECAUSE THREE YEARS AGO, ALL THE PHYSICS OF THE SUN THAT YOU AND NASA AND EVERYBODY ELSE WAS USING WERE ANTICIPATING THAT THIS COULD BE THE BIGGEST SOLAR MAXIMUM ON RECORD?
There were indications back then. I am writing a paper – it’s on my computer as we speak (laughs) – basically saying that I made a big mistake – myself and Bob Wilson – when we wrote a paper in 2006, suggesting Solar Cycle 24 was going to be a huge cycle based on conditions at that time. The problem we had with our prediction was that it was based on a method that assumes that we’re near sunspot cycle minimum.
We had just previously gone through three or four sunspot cycles that had been only ten years long each, so for the one in 1996 to 2006, it seemed like a reasonable assumption. But as we now know, we were off by at least two years. And if we take conditions on the sun now, it’s a completely different story. The conditions now – using even that same technique from 2006 – says that the next sunspot cycle is going to be half what we thought it was back in 2006.
Another big prediction in 2006 was based on a dynamo model – a model for how the sun produces magnetic fields – and it suggested a huge cycle.
But there also were people back at that time saying otherwise. A group of colleagues led by Leif Svalgaard, Ph.D., were looking at the sun’s polar fields and saying even at that point, the sun’s polar fields were significantly weaker than they had been before and those scientists back then predicted it was going to be a small cycle.
How Small Will Solar Cycle 24 Be?
…I’ve come around to that view now. I think there is little doubt in my mind now that we’re in for a small cycle. The big question now is how small? I think most of us are predicting small cycles. I think even the techniques I’m using now are suggesting HALF the size of the last three or four solar cycles, but my fear is that even that might be too big just from the fact that it’s taken so long for this Solar Cycle 24 to really get off the ground and start producing sunspots.
I have no doubt at this point that it’s going to be a little cycle. My current prediction is that it’s going to be about half of what we’ve seen in the last four solar cycles or so. But in my gut, I feel it’s going to be smaller than that! (laughs) It’s just so slow in taking off and the indicators that we see – both the polar fields and the geomagnetic indicators are lower than anything we’ve seen before.
So kudos to David Hathaway for writing a paper talking about how wrong his previous papers have been. Absolutely no sarcasm intended or implied.
The Solar Science blog is on hiatus for the forseeable future. I have other commitments and a different focus which is causing me to cut out marginal uses of my time like maintaining this blog.
If anyone knows of any other solar science resources on the Internet that I can link to, then tell me in the comments and I’ll add them
This just in from NASA:
New, three-dimensional imaging of Martian north-polar ice layers by a radar instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is consistent with theoretical models of Martian climate swings during the past few million years. Alignment of the layering patterns with the modeled climate cycles provides insight about how the layers accumulated. These ice-rich, layered deposits cover an area one-third larger than Texas and form a stack up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) thick atop a basal deposit with additional ice.
“Contrast in electrical properties between layers is what provides the reflectivity we observe with the radar,” said Nathaniel Putzig of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo., a member of the science team for the Shallow Radar instrument on the orbiter. “The pattern of reflectivity tells us about the pattern of material variations within the layers.”
Earlier radar observations indicated that the Martian north-polar layered deposits are mostly ice. Radar contrasts between different layers in the deposits are interpreted as differences in the concentration of rock material, in the form of dust, mixed with the ice. These deposits on Mars hold about one-third as much water as Earth’s Greenland ice sheet.
It certainly isn’t carbon dioxide that’s causing any climate change on Mars.
Just when I thought we’d get to watch a single sunspot make its weary way across the surface of the Sun, a new sunspot group appears in the Northern Hemisphere. We haven’t seen a sight like this in a long time
Of course the Sun has surprised us before – one swallow not making a summer and all of that jazz – but I remain cautiously optimistic. It will be interesting to see if the new Northern Hemisphere spots last for at least a few days.
Boy, am I a glutton for punishment.
After being starved of any significant solar activity for so long, any detection of a sunspot very nearly becomes headline news. Therefore when a significant spot is detected on the solar farside, people start writing furiously.
So what to do? The first detection of a potential (and substantial) sunspot in more than a month came from GONG
But will it survive to the nearside?
There’s something that might be a spot on the far eastern limb of the latest STEREO image
But GONG now shows nothing at all
So what to believe? The next few days should show whether we’re looking at a spot or a plage. I confess that the sensitivity of the seismic results interpreted by GONG are often less accurate as to whether we are seeing a solar disturbance (like a coronal hole or a prominence) or a real sunspot.
I suspect that this is continuation of a pattern we have been seeing for many months, a single sunspot or very small group with SC24 polarity passes in front of us, but nothing else happens and the Sun’s activity quickly falls back to very low levels.
Because of this phenomenon, the most likely response from the solar science community is likely to be muted, after so many false dawns.
Solarcycle24.com has produced a graph showing the remarkable difference between the spotless days between solar cycles 22 and 23 and between 23 and 24.
There’s no end in sight for this minimum.
September 3, 2009: The sun is in the pits of the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century. Weeks and sometimes whole months go by without even a single tiny sunspot. The quiet has dragged out for more than two years, prompting some observers to wonder, are sunspots disappearing?
“Personally, I’m betting that sunspots are coming back,” says researcher Matt Penn of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Tucson, Arizona. But, he allows, “there is some evidence that they won’t.”
Penn’s colleague Bill Livingston of the NSO has been measuring the magnetic fields of sunspots for the past 17 years, and he has found a remarkable trend. Sunspot magnetism is on the decline:
Above: Sunspot magnetic fields measured by Livingston and Penn from 1992 – Feb. 2009 using an infrared Zeeman splitting technique.
“Sunspot magnetic fields are dropping by about 50 gauss per year,” says Penn. “If we extrapolate this trend into the future, sunspots could completely vanish around the year 2015.”
Hmmm, yes they could. But the solar magnetic field could simply be in a cyclical downturn of which this is a part. We need an expert!
“This work has caused a sensation in the field of solar physics,” comments NASA sunspot expert David Hathaway, who is not directly involved in the research. “It’s controversial stuff.”
The controversy is not about the data. “We know Livingston and Penn are excellent observers,” says Hathaway. “The trend that they have discovered appears to be real.” The part colleagues have trouble believing is the extrapolation. Hathaway notes that most of their data were taken after the maximum of Solar Cycle 23 (2000-2002) when sunspot activity naturally began to decline. “The drop in magnetic fields could be a normal aspect of the solar cycle and not a sign that sunspots are permanently vanishing.”
Yes, what he said.
Penn himself wonders about these points. “Our technique is relatively new and the data stretches back in time only 17 years. We could be observing a temporary downturn that will reverse itself.”
The technique they’re using was pioneered by Livingston at the NASA-supported McMath-Pierce solar telescope near Tucson. He looks at a spectral line emitted by iron atoms in the sun’s atmosphere. Sunspot magnetic fields cause the line to split in two—an effect called “Zeeman splitting” after Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman who discovered the phenomenon in the 19th century. The size of the split reveals the intensity of the magnetism
If the solar magnetism continues to decline what could this mean for the Earth?
If sunspots do go away, it wouldn’t be the first time. In the 17th century, the sun plunged into a 70-year period of spotlessness known as the Maunder Minimum that still baffles scientists. The sunspot drought began in 1645 and lasted until 1715; during that time, some of the best astronomers in history (e.g., Cassini) monitored the sun and failed to count more than a few dozen sunspots per year, compared to the usual thousands.
Note that of course, they don’t mention that this coincided with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age. But that would be politically incorrect, wouldn’t it?
“Whether [the current downturn] is an omen of long-term sunspot decline, analogous to the Maunder Minimum, remains to be seen,” Livingston and Penn caution in a recent issue of EOS. “Other indications of solar activity suggest that sunspots must return in earnest within the next year.”
I’d love to know what those other indications are, because the prognostications of future solar activity have been startlingly poor from practically everybody.
I leave the last words to David Hathaway, who dares to speak the truth to solar science:
Whatever happens, notes Hathaway, “the sun is behaving in an interesting way and I believe we’re about to learn something new.”
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