Solar Science

A blog of solar physics

NASA: Your guess is as good as ours

with 4 comments

Solar Cycle 24 is late. It should have arrived six months ago, but so far the sunspot cycle has failed to materialize and the Sun is extremely quiet.

So what will Solar Cycle 24 be like when it turns up?

NASA is split on the answer:


Experts Split Over Intensity

The next 11-year cycle of solar storms will most likely start next March and peak in late 2011 or mid-2012 – up to a year later than expected – according to a forecast issued today by NOAA’s Space Environment Center in coordination with an international panel of solar experts.

Expected to start last fall, the delayed onset of Solar Cycle 24 stymied the panel and left them evenly split on whether a weak or strong period of solar storms lies ahead, but neither group predicts a record-breaker. The Space Environment Center led the prediction panel and issued the forecast at its annual Space Weather Workshop in Boulder. NASA sponsored the panel.

“The Space Environment Center’s space weather alerts, warnings, and forecasts are a critical component of NOAA’s seamless stewardship of the Earth’s total environment, from the Sun to the sea,� said retired Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

During an active solar period, violent eruptions occur more often on the Sun. Solar flares and vast explosions, known as coronal mass ejections, shoot energetic photons and highly charged matter toward Earth, jolting the planet’s ionosphere and geomagnetic field, potentially affecting power grids, critical military and airline communications, satellites, Global Positioning System signals, and even threatening astronauts with harmful radiation. These same storms illuminate night skies with brilliant sheets of red and green known as auroras, or the northern or southern lights.

Solar cycle intensity is measured in maximum number of sunspots – dark blotches on the Sun that mark areas of heightened magnetic activity. The more sunspots there are, the more likely it is that major solar storms will occur.

In the cycle forecast issued today, half of the panel predicts a moderately strong cycle of 140 sunspots, plus or minus 20, expected to peak in October of 2011. The other half predicts a moderately weak cycle of 90 sunspots, plus or minus 10, peaking in August of 2012. An average solar cycle ranges from 75 to 155 sunspots. The late decline of Cycle 23 has helped shift the panel away from its earlier leaning toward a strong Cycle 24. Now the group is evenly split between strong and weak.

Meanwhile solar cycle 24 appears to be ever later in appearing. Here is the current situation:

This brings us to an interesting situation. After what one astrophysicist communicated to me seemed a lot like numerology in a prediction by NASA, and after statements about the strength of Solar Cycle 24 by the same group, we now have a fence-sitting position (which is always extremely uncomfortable).

The Russian Academy of Sciences annnounced a paper predicting a Dalton-minimum style cooling because of extreme weakness in the predicted strengths of Solar Cycles 24 and 25. It looks like Greenhouse Theory and the Solar Cycle Theory are about to get their sternest tests.


Written by John A

May 20, 2007 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Solar Cycle 24

4 Responses

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  1. Hi John.

    You may be interested in another cycle 24 prediction made in 1999 I’ve written about here:

    Thanks for allowing us to set up blogs here!

    I thought long and hard for quite a while before setting up a blog, however as your blog appears to be focussed on mainstream astrophysics, I decided a new blog was appropriate for the stuff I intend to do rather than trying to ‘hijack’ yours to post the kind of solar material I will be working on, as some of it will be a bit ‘left field’, especially when I get into examining the torque effects of specific planetary cycles (e.g. Jupiter, Venus, Earth) on the Sun in the near future, something many in the mainstream may consider as sailing a bit close to ‘astrology’.

    Of course, I do not intend to cross over into any popular conception of ‘astrology’ as such, but instead to use a physical cycles based approach see if I can tease out some of the fascinating stuff hidden in the motions of the Sun and planets, and the cycles of transference of angular momentum between them.



    June 1, 2007 at 6:07 am

  2. John A, you may be interested in this mainstream paper on cycle 24:

    Predicting Solar Cycle 24 and beyond

    “We use a model for sunspot number using low-frequency solar oscillations, with periods 22, 53, 88, 106,
    213, and 420 years modulating the 11-year Schwabe cycle, to predict the peak sunspot number of cycle 24
    and for future cycles, including the period around 2100 A.D. We extend the earlier work of Damon and
    Jirikowic (1992) by adding a further long-period component of 420 years. Typically, the standard deviation
    between the model and the peak sunspot number in each solar cycle from 1750 to 1970 is ±34. The
    peak sunspot prediction for cycles 21, 22, and 23 agree with the observed sunspot activity levels within the
    error estimate. Our peak sunspot prediction for cycle 24 is significantly smaller than cycle 23, with peak
    sunspot numbers predicted to be 42 ± 34. These predictions suggest that a period of quiet solar activity
    is expected, lasting until 2030, with less disruption to satellite orbits, satellite lifetimes, and power
    distribution grids and lower risk of spacecraft failures and radiation dose to astronauts. Our model also
    predicts a recovery during the middle of the century to more typical solar activity cycles with peak sunspot
    numbers around 120. Eventually, the superposition of the minimum phase of the 105- and 420-year cycles
    just after 2100 leads to another period of significantly quieter solar conditions. This lends some support
    to the prediction of low solar activity in 2100 made by Clilverd et al. (2003).”

    This is consistant with the material of Dr Landscheidt I am exploring on my blog.


    June 3, 2007 at 5:06 am

  3. You know what’s interesting to me? In practically all of the papers on solar science that I’ve seen (and I’m about to post on one that is an exception), solar scientists appear to avoid any mention of future effects on the Earth’s climate as a consequence of their predictions being accurate.

    John A

    June 3, 2007 at 7:23 am

  4. Yes, I have noticed that also, and if they even hint at climate effects they usually seem to quickly move on with a cover statement about CO2 warming being the main climate player – one could speculate that many of them are really taking great care to avoid rocking the ‘consensus’ boat.


    June 3, 2007 at 2:55 pm

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