Solar Science

A blog of solar physics

The Sun is blank – no sunspots

with 14 comments

This letter was written to the Greene County Daily:

Each morning I turn on my computer and check to see how the sun is doing. Lately I am greeted with the message “The sun is blank – no sunspots.”

We are at the verge of the next sunspot cycle, solar cycle 24. How intense will this cycle be? Why is this question important? Because the sun is a major force controlling natural climate change on Earth.

Our Milky Way galaxy is awash with cosmic rays. These are high speed charged particles that originate from exploding stars. Because they are charged, their travel is strongly influenced by magnetic fields. Our sun produces a magnetic field that extends to the edges of our solar system. This field deflects many of the cosmic rays away from Earth. But when the sun goes quiet (minimal sunspots), this field collapses inward allowing cosmic rays to penetrate deeper into our solar system. As a result, far greater numbers collide with Earth and penetrate down into the lower atmosphere where they ionize small particles of moisture (humidity) forming them into water droplets that become clouds. Low level clouds reflect sunlight back into space. A large increase in Earth’s cloud cover produce a global drop in temperature.

Some scientist feel they have developed sufficient understanding to predict the intensity of future sunspot cycles. A Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel was hosted on 25 April 2007 with officials from NOAA, NASA, ISES and other agencies. They issued a consensus statement which came to the conclusion that the next solar cycle could be severe, peaking at around 140 International Sunspot Numbers (Ri) or moderate, at around 90 Ri. But a few scientist disagree. A number of well regarded solar physicists are predicting the next solar cycle will be far weaker than the last one.

It’s worth pointing out that even NASA is having second thoughts about this, as I pointed out earlier.

A paper by David C. Archibald published in Energy and Environment in 2006 forecasted a low intensity solar cycle with a peak Ri of approximately 50. A few scientist have even claimed that we might be headed into another Solar Minimum. For the past few months, the actual sunspot numbers have been below NOAA’s lower predicted threshold, approaching zero.

And they have continued to be near zero.

Actually the streak of “spotless days” was recently broken when a single, tiny spot appeared and then disappeared after only a few hours. Nevertheless, September and October had the lowest sunspot counts since the last low before Solar Cycle 23:

sunspotsthru31oct2007.gif

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Written by John A

November 15, 2007 at 1:29 pm

14 Responses

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  1. Are there any models out there that would ever predict long periods of spotlessness, such as the Dalton or Maunder Minimums? If so, which ones? I can see that Cliverd’s simple technique offers some attempt to account for extended lulls, but what about the others?

    Harold Vance

    November 16, 2007 at 5:20 pm

  2. I’ve no idea. I was trying to look for the Fairbridge Curve, which seemed to predict solar activity by relating it to the position of the Sun relative to the center of mass of the Solar system, but so far no success.

    John A

    November 17, 2007 at 9:29 am

  3. I noticed with amused interest how closely NASA’s predictions of a “massive” and “largest ever” predictions for Solar Cycle 24 (beginning back in the March 2007 entry) have utterly failed at even getting the start of SC24 right: we are still at zero sunspots – not out of the end of SC23 yet! – and we are now entering late November, 2007. No hurricanes either for 2007, for those who are tracking such storms against the AGW extremists’ predictions.

    Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

    Robert

    Robert.A.Cook,PE

    November 20, 2007 at 6:15 am

  4. On the other end of your excellent sunspot/solar cycle/cosmic ray shielding/global warming thought train …

    The earth’s magnetic field is decreasing now – has been decreasing since the mid 1890’s actually – and has now lost some 10-12% of its original strength. Separately, and perhaps related, the position of the north magnetic pole has begun moving very rapidly a very long distance from its previously near “static” position near the south Hudson Bay area. The earth’s magnetic pole has always moved – a little bit – since first discovered, but now it is moving very rapidly towards Siberia, and is over a thousand km from its previous position the past many years.

    If cosmic rays are affecting cloud cover (by changing vapor nucleation rates in the air’s water vapor), then what impact has a reduction in the earth’s magnetic field (thus reducing shielding, thus increasing cosmic ray interaction rate, thus forming more clouds and increasing cooling tendencies) have in opposing the trend of more solar flares being linked to a higher energy UV and EM solar spectrum and thus more of the sun’s magnetic field being available to shield the earth from cosmic rays?

    Are we actually seeing the sun’s increased activity (by increasing magnetic shielding, reducing cosmic rays thus increasing heating because there are fewer clouds) opposing the otherwise dominate climate factor of more cooling because of more clouds because of less shielding from the earth’s internal magnetic field?

    Robert

    Robert.A.Cook,PE

    November 20, 2007 at 6:28 am

  5. Harold:
    Look up the work of Theodor Landscheidt on how the changes of the solar baricenter due to alignments of the outer planets affects solar output. The predicted lows and highs in solar output match up with the Earth’s recent climatic events.

    Currently, his model is predicting a Dalton or worse minimum at approx 2025.

    Denise

    Denise Norris

    November 21, 2007 at 4:53 pm

  6. You will find that plenty of the late Theodor Landscheidt’s material is accessable from my blog [url=http://landscheidt.auditblogs.com/]Landscheidt Cycles Research[/url].

    Like Rhodes Fairbridge, he used the motion of the Sun around the Centre of Mass of the Solar System (also called SS barycentre) for his predictions.

    Theodor published a prediction that the [url=http://landscheidt.auditblogs.com/archives/17]upcoming SC24 would be very weak[/url] back in 1999, and published another prediction in 2003 that SC25would be even weaker, with the two very weak cycles ushering in a [url=http://landscheidt.auditblogs.com/archives/24]’New Little Ice Age'[/url] by 2030 that will continue through most of the century.

    Theodor Landscheidt had the best track record of all solar scientists I’m aware of when it came to predicting solar cycles, often doing so with remarkable accuracy even decades ahead, and he has also successfully predicted solar flare activity and various climate related phenomena such as ENSO cycles, yet even though some of his work has been validated independantly by mainstream scientists, his work for the most part continues to be ignored.

    Carl

    November 23, 2007 at 1:53 am

  7. Oh dear … the pollen is still scrambling my brains …

    Sorry John A – could you please make those links above proper ones instead of BB code links?

    Carl

    November 23, 2007 at 1:59 am

  8. Landscheidt remains ignored cause his work is too close to astrology for some and it predicts the unpopular and downright scary scenario of a 60-yr little ice age.

    Even David Hathaway, who predicted a low SC25 for NASA about 18 months ago (solar conveyor method), disagreed that barycenter variations could be at the root of long term solar cycles.

    Denise Norris

    November 24, 2007 at 2:09 pm

  9. Now, late Dec 2007, we are finally getting some activity that represents solar cycle 24. It’s (finally) here.

    Robert Cook, PE

    December 22, 2007 at 8:58 am

  10. If Landscheidt is to astrology, then what is Hathaway to? Popularity and emotion have little to do with objective science. At least Landscheidt hypothesied as to what causes sunspots, where as Hathaway and many others play with some version of the aa index prediction method. A good analogy of the aa index method is like driving your car forwards only looking at the rear view mirror, it’s ok on a straight away, but curves are problematic. Nature throws lots of curves. Now Clilverd at least has a plausable hypothesis as to the relative strength in periodocity of the cycles using harmonics, but no explanation as to what causes them. The conveyor observations are equally as intuitive as Clilverd’s method, but no explanation of cause.

    Dan

    December 26, 2007 at 8:39 pm

  11. OK — let me warn you in advance that I failed all my high school science classes, but nevertheless it occurs to me that were this a “natural” occurence (meaning the cessation of sunspot activity), wouldn’t it happen over a period of cycles, not just all of a sudden? I’ve seen charts of sunspot activity going back 400 years, and the minimums all seem to have been eased into, not to mention that the 20th century was a period of intensifying activity. So why the all-of-a-sudden switch? Am I the only one who thinks “something is rotten in the state of Denmark…”?

    Charlotte Creamer

    January 18, 2009 at 8:33 pm

  12. And now, is this the onset of a major ice age??
    It sure feels like it. Please explain if you can…

    Boro

    August 28, 2009 at 1:02 pm

  13. Boro :
    And now, is this the onset of a major ice age??
    It sure feels like it. Please explain if you can…

    No that’s just weather. If the Sun really does have a profound influence on the climate of the Earth, then a cool period is ahead of us, complete with expanding deserts, crop failures and famines.

    John A

    August 28, 2009 at 11:46 pm

  14. @Charlotte Creamer

    The answer is that the best analysis of the onset of the Maunder Minimum was that the solar cycle became erratic beforehand.

    In this case that didn’t happen, so I think its unlikely. But the Dalton Minimum certainly was preceded by reasonably large solar cycles.

    Most truthful answer is that nobody has yet produced a model which explains the prolonged minimum that we are currently seeing.

    Interesting times.

    John A

    August 28, 2009 at 11:50 pm


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