October 2013 Sunspots: Huge Jump!
It shot way, way up to 85.6 from last month’s lowly 36.9! It’s the largest single monthly change in spots this cycle. Monthly sunspot numbers go up and down like a yo-yo.
The big news is that the southern hemisphere sunspot average – 55.6 – hit its highest level yet this cycle. The northern hemisphere count is an expected 30 spots.
Only one scientist comes close to predicting the sun’s current behavior. He is Dr. Leif Svalgaard. This month’s giant leap in sunspot activity was anticipated by Svalgaard who compares current behavior to similar behavior during Cycle 14 a hundred years ago.
But Svalgaard knows more… MUCH more.
The sun is undergoing a fundamental transformation that will affect Earth’s near-term future. Just how much is a matter of ongoing speculation.
It’s frightening how little we understand the sun. To fully comprehend what is happening now, a look back on recently held beliefs is mind-boggling.
Solar Activity Significance
First off, understanding and predicting solar sunspot activity isn’t an academic exercise.
It’s vitally important. Directly affected by it are:
- Satellite orbital characteristics
- Satellite electronics
- Astronaut radiation risk
- Earth’s electric power grids
- Climate change
Sunspot counts are hard-wired into computer calculations that predict the useful lifespan of orbiting satellites, if and when they may fall back to Earth, and even determine their proper launch altitude. Safety planning to protect sensitive satellite electronics from burnout depends on knowing what radiation hazard to expect.
It’s important to know years in advance how often or how strongly doses of lethal radiation will affect orbiting astronauts or earth-based electric power grids.
Being able to predict solar activity allows its hazards to be mitigated in advance.
Current Status of Solar Cycle 24 Predictions
In 2006, NASA formed the “Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel” near the end of Cycle 23. It’s an international group of top solar physicists from governments and academia.
Their purpose: Predict Solar Cycle 24 peak sunspot activity.
They missed the mark by a country mile!
The above graph shows the panel was deeply divided in March of 2007. Instead of one, they had two competing predictions.
Group A believed Cycle 24 would have a strong peak of +140 in October 2011. That would make it bigger and more active than Cycle 23 seen at left. Their reasoning was based on past sunspot cycle counts and called the “statistical method”.
Group B had a radically different prediction. They said it would be much weaker than a normal cycle and have a paltry peak of only +90 in August 2012. Their prediction was physics-based using the “precursor method”.
Two years later, in May of 2009, the panel met again and released its final prediction. The strong peak was gone. The “precursor method” won. The final prediction was a peak of +90 to arrive in March of 2013.
NASA’s final prediction is the red curve in this month’s spot update at the top of this article.
Even NASA’s final adjusted prediction is off. The prediction is a lot higher and the peak later than what we are observing.
It’s not official yet, but it is looking like the smoothed monthly peak of solar sunspot activity will be 66.9. That occurred in February of 2012. But should sunspots remain this high for several more months in a row then that could change.
The Svalgaard Effect
Leif Svalgaard is a champion of the “precursor method” and in NASA Group B. He is a man of empirical physics, not of statistics.
Back in 2004, years before NASA formed its panel, Svalgaard/Cliver/Kamide wrote a now-famous paper in the Geophysical Review Letters titled, “Sunspot cycle 24: Smallest cycle in 100 years?“
In the paper they predicted a Cycle 24 monthly peak of 75±8 occurring in (≈2011). Their timing was off, but their peak amplitude is nearly spot on with what we are seeing today, right down to Svalgaard’s comparison with Cycle 14!
The precursor they used to make their prediction is the peak strength of solar polar magnetic fields. Solar polar fields peak a few years after sunspot maximum and are precursor indicators of the next sunspot cycle strength. The polar field strength of Cycle 23 had just been measured around the time their paper was written.
Svalgaard is onto another fundamental error. It’s how sunspot counts have been recorded. He knows the so-called “Modern Maximum” isn’t real, but the result of counting errors. More on that another time.
It’s scary that something as important as solar activity is to life of Earth that it’s still so poorly understood after hundreds of years of observations. NASA’s Cycle 24 predictions prove that.
Just this month Columbia University astrophysicists came out with a possible explanation for why the sun’s corona is so very much hotter than it’s surface. It has been known 70 years that the corona is hot, but not why! Their new explanation involves coronal holes.
Physicists do not understand the sun in fundamental ways.
Today, Svalgaard and the “precursor method” have been vindicated. Other predictive precursors have been added to the method. Our ability to predict solar activity is improving.
With it, the first prediction for Cycle 25 is already out. That first prediction is for a monthly smoothed peak of only +7 spots!!!
This month’s gargantuan leap from 36.9 to 85.6 spots only adds to the sun’s mystery.
Where will the sun go from here?
No one knows. But whichever way it goes there’ll be big changes down here on Planet Earth.
Posted on Nov 1, 2013, in Business, Climate, climate change, economics, Energy, environment, nature, news, Opinion, Politics, science, space, sunspots, technology. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.