Solar Science

A blog of solar physics

Is a New Solar Cycle beginning? Er, no. Not yet.

Much excitement from NASA, as the long delayed arrival of Solar Cycle 24 was announced:

Dec. 14, 2007: The solar physics community is abuzz this week. No, there haven’t been any great eruptions or solar storms. The source of the excitement is a modest knot of magnetism that popped over the sun’s eastern limb on Dec. 11th, pictured below in a pair of images from the orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

It may not look like much, but “this patch of magnetism could be a sign of the next solar cycle,” says solar physicist David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Yeees, go on…

“New solar cycles always begin with a high-latitude, reversed polarity sunspot,” explains Hathaway. “Reversed polarity ” means a sunspot with opposite magnetic polarity compared to sunspots from the previous solar cycle. “High-latitude” refers to the sun’s grid of latitude and longitude. Old cycle spots congregate near the sun’s equator. New cycle spots appear higher, around 25 or 30 degrees latitude.

OK, got that. Now we have a sunspot with reversed polarity compared to solar cycle 23?

The region that appeared on Dec. 11th fits both these criteria. It is high latitude (24 degrees N) and magnetically reversed. Just one problem: There is no sunspot. So far the region is just a bright knot of magnetic fields. If, however, these fields coalesce into a dark sunspot, scientists are ready to announce that Solar Cycle 24 has officially begun.

And did this coalesce into a sunspot? No. The Sun remains stubbornly blank although there was a fair sized SC23 spot for several days that followed.There appears to be indications of a large sunspot on the far side of the Sun but that too is right on the equator and probably isn’t polarity reversed from SC23.

This isn’t the first time that a sunspot appeared to herald the next solar cycle that failed to materialize. There was another which appeared in late 2006 that got people excited for literally hours when it appeared and disappeared.

Hathaway, it must be remembered, was one of a team who predicted a very strong SC24, at least as strong as the previous one. I think the tension may be getting to him.

I think its OK to actually wait for at least a couple of magnetically reversed sunspots to appear at high latitudes before announcing the Coming of the next Solar Cycle. Whatever happens, SC24 will be late.


Written by John A

December 22, 2007 at 10:46 am

Posted in Solar Cycle 24

Tagged with , , ,

6 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure if the excitement at NASA is more over something new beginning and thus to study versus a hidden agenda with AGW in mind. Most of us amateurs are fascinated with the ability to observe in real time were as before we only got to hear about it after the fact. It’s kind of like the CNN coverage of Gulf War I, the first televised war.

    The hidden agenda though is AGW, if you will remember global warming is predicted to firmly re-assert itself again in 2009 since global temps (GAT) have leveled off since the 1998 high supposedly due to La Nina or the absence of El Nino. The 2009 time frame is suspiciously coincidental with the Hathaway’s claimed peak. It is as though Hathaway and Hansen are connected in some way. Remember, Hansen claims solar activity has nothing to do with AGW. The claim is TSI doesn’t vary more than 1% throughout the solar cycle. Hmmm, a double standard don’t you think when CO2 has changed even less in the atmosphere to get to 380 ppm? btw- a 1 watt/m^2 difference is a massive amount of energy when applied against the entire daylight side of the earth on the order thousands of nuclear bombs every day. Interesting perspective on tipping points, isn’t it?


    December 23, 2007 at 5:45 pm

  2. That would be disappointing if that was the reason, since I would rather have a weak solar cycle to demonstrate whether the Sun or Greenhouse gases was really responsible.

    I have no evidence of a connection between Hathaway and Hansen even though they both work for NASA. There are quite a few people inside NASA who disagree vehemently with Hansen, but most don’t make a public display of it.

    John A

    December 24, 2007 at 10:21 am

  3. Anyway that was my black helicopter theory for the month.

    I’m more of the opinion we are going to have a weak solar cycle, we already had October and November with monthly averages of less than 2. Another precusor spot showed up on the EIT 195 magnetogram today with the cycle 24 fingerprint but it is not a visable spot and so not counted.

    Given the low activity of this month, I’m suspecting that we are going to get a couple more months of less than 2 avg monthly values before cycle 24 is counted as starting, that means an anemic cycle by historical standards. Time will tell, but Hathaway in any event will come out the wiser for it since all scientists when faced with a failed prediction are then given more facts to better understanding.


    December 26, 2007 at 2:47 pm

  4. Time will tell, but Hathaway in any event will come out the wiser for it since all scientists when faced with a failed prediction are then given more facts to better understanding.

    That’s the fun of science. I’m not blaming Hathaway for sticking his neck out though.

    John A

    December 27, 2007 at 9:19 am

  5. Read this posting about a magnetically reversed spot that appeared on Jan 4, 2008.

    So, I’m just an educated observer, any of you experts care to comment? Do we have a new cycle yet?

    Dennis Hand

    January 13, 2008 at 12:32 am

  6. I’m just an educated observer as well, and I observed that that SC24 spot lasted just as long as the reversed polarity spot did in 2006 – a few hours.

    What does this mean? That SC24 continues to puzzle and nobody knows what will happen.

    John A

    January 18, 2008 at 12:20 pm

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