2012 Prediction: Solar Surprises!
In the last few months its become clear something strange is happening on the sun. Its both contradictory and baffling.
It proves our understanding of solar physics is still very much in its infancy. However, solar physics is about to undergo a paradigm shift.
In the year 2012, we will make a quantum leap in our knowledge of the sun.
Discoveries made this year will have a profound impact on mankind’s perception of the sun, on our perception of global climate change and on our perception of the future for planet Earth.
As a young physics student hoping to become a research astronomer, I was taught that the radiant energy output of the sun had been unchanged for billions of years.
Professors told us that the sun would remain a dependable, invariable energy source for billions more years to come.
They had powerful formulas to back it up.
That fundamental belief in astronomy was so strong that the measure of the sun’s overall energy output is even called the “solar constant“.
Since then, their belief in invariability has been tossed out the window! The sun is dynamic and changing. Its about to change yet again!
We have learned over the last two and a half solar cycles that the sun is hotter during sunspot maximum and cooler during sunspot minimum.
As you can see from the reconstruction graphic above, the sun’s energy output has increased in modern times. Since 1700 solar energy output has risen in lockstep with Earth’s rising temperature. Coincidence?
More Data; More Understanding
Primarily due to satellites and improved technology, the amount of accurate empirical data collected about our nearest star has increased a thousand fold. That data is now coming into direct conflict with accepted theory.
Solar physicists can’t even forecast solar sunspot cycles with accuracy, let alone how total solar energy output will change over time. Once again, that is exposed as we approach next year’s sunspot maximum.
A New “Little Ice Age”?
There is so much new data come to light in the last few months that it taxes our ability to absorb it all.
Last June an astounding new finding was announced.
The sun’s magnetic field strength is decreasing linearly and will reach zero by 2025.
That plus two other significant findings announced at the same conference has solar physicists speculating that all sunspot activity will cease and that condition may persist for decades.
Sunspots are gigantic magnetic storms. Without a magnetic field to support them there cannot be any sunspots.
It looks like that could happen again.
Consistent with that possibility, the last sunspot minimum was a couple years later than predicted and, after several revisions, the next sunspot maximum is forecast to be the weakest in 80 years.
The Last Six Months
In the last 6 months two incompatible pieces of data have emerged:
- Sunspot numbers are far higher than forecast
- Planetary solar magnetic flux is near the lowest ever measured
This just should not be. It doesn’t jive with our current understand of things.
Magnetic flux and sunspot numbers should rise and fall roughly together. Given the flux levels, there should be very few sunspots; yet there they are – everywhere, in droves!
In the last 5 months sunspot numbers have tripled. They are at over 100 now and the numbers are rising faster than a hot air balloon. Warnings about solar flares and CMEs along with spectacular displays of associated earth aurora are all over the news. All are associated with sunspot activity.
Its not unusual for there to be a fast rise in sunspot numbers as we approach sunspot maximum, but this rise is steeper than usual and already above the forecast. And it isn’t showing any sign of slowing down.
Two years ago we were barely convinced we had even reached sunspot minimum.
What Happened in October 2005?
Back in 1991, two sunspot cycles ago, near sunspot maximum, the solar magnetic flux index also peaked. Solar physicists were happy as clams! Theory was backed up by empirical data!
However, the next peak of magnetic flux was 4 years AFTER the next 2000-2001 sunspot maximum. Why?
Then, in October 2005, just as we entered a very prolonged solar minimum lasting over 7 years, there was a discontinuous drop in magnetic flux from which the sun never recovered. Why?
We are unsure why or what it means. But it deepens the mystery as to why solar planetary magnetic flux took another big drop in the last two months while sunspot numbers dramatically increased.
Two solar probes, part of an interplanetary mission called STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory), got fully into position on opposites sides of the sun around March 2011. The mission was launched back in 2006.
One purpose is to study the 3-dimensional structure of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), associated with sunspots, that can disrupt satellites and power grids on Earth and fry electronics. For the first time ever, it gives us an uninterrupted view of the whole sun, not just one side.
Another mission purpose is to study the internal structure of the sun.
This mission along with other solar probes and earth-based observations will help gather the most data ever collected during a sunspot maximum. That data will drive new theory.
It could not come at a more opportune time. Something strange is happening on the sun.
Why are sunspot counts dramatically up, way above forecasts, while the sun’s magnetic field is dramatically weakening? How can that be explained? Will we experience another Maunder Minimum?
This will be an active and well studied sunspot maximum. CMEs may wreak havoc in 2012 and 2013.
By year’s end solar physics will undergo a paradigm shift and the scientific argument over global climate change will be permanently altered.
Posted on Jan 1, 2012, in astronomy, climate change, Global Climate Change, Little Ice Age, Politics, science, solar cycle, solar physics, Sun, sunspots and tagged solar sunspot cycle. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.