NOAA December Sunspot Secrets
NOAA came out with its latest sunspot counts on January 7th. It is not good news. At 40.8, the December sunspot number is exceptionally low. But its a story with a surprise twist!
Given that we are at or near the peak of solar Cycle 24, December 2012 had a pathetically low number. It is much lower than November.
That puts the sunspot number for 2012 officially at 57.6, barely above 2011’s 55.7; both numbers are well below the forecast shown in the red curve.
If the peak for Cycle 24 doesn’t top 60, it will be the first time that hasn’t happened since Cycle 6 back during the Dalton Minimum in 1816.
What, if anything, does it mean?
Is Solar Cycle 24 Unique?
No. It isn’t even close. Solar physicist Leif Svalgaard compares it to similarly weak Cycle 14 which had more ups and downs than a yo-yo on steroids.
Svalgaard is most famous for leading a rebel band of solar physicists that predicted a very low sunspot count for the current cycle when everyone else said it would be sky high.
In swings of about 6 months, Cycle 14 went as much as 80 sunspots up and down in a cycle that barely topped an annual count of 60 sunspots.
For example, in a 3 month period in 1906 the sunspot number plummeted from over 105 to under 20. Then, in the next 4 months it skyrocketed back up to nearly 110. Its yearly average, though, never topped 65.
What makes the current one, Cycle 24, like Cycle 14 is that 24 had a huge spike in sunspot activity in late 2011. It could, and some suspect will, have a double peak just like Cycle 14.
The sun’s northern hemisphere is well past its peak in solar activity. The southern hemisphere has not yet reach its peak.
What a Difference a Month Can Make!!
Four days ago, a gigantic sunspot group called AR1654 rotated into view. It is 14 Earth diameters wide and growing.
AR1654 is not an isolated event. January, so far, has been an exceptionally active month on the sun. It is a total reversal from December. So far this month the average sunspot number is around 109. That is close to 3 times more active than December and nearly twice as active as all of 2012.
AR1654 will soon rotate to be facing Earth. Should a giant flare-type called a CME happen while pointed at Earth then it could disrupt Earth’s electronic devices and produce spectacular auroras.
Once again, Leif Svalgaard looks like a solar science prophet. January is making the current cycle look more and more like Cycle 14.
Despite this month’s leap in activity, virtually all solar physicists – Svalgaard included – believe we are headed into an extended period of low solar activity called a grand minimum.
Anecdotal historical evidence suggests that extended periods of low solar activity correspond to cooler Earth temperatures. Most notable, the Earth was colder during the Maunder and Dalton grand minimums.
Will it happen again?
Notably, Leif Svalgaard remains staunchly skeptical that it will bring cooler temperatures with it. His reasoning is quite technical.
Svalgaard appears to be two-for-two in the prediction department for Cycle 24. Is he right again about the upcoming grand minimum?
Only time will tell.