Sunspot Cycle Double-Peak Underway?
Note: The sunspot double-peak appears solidly underway. The latest report is here:
===> Sunspot Double-Peak is Underway <====
It was whispered for months. Then, two months ago, NASA scientist Dean Pesnell came out with an official prediction that the current sunspot cycle would have two peaks instead of only one. He says the 2nd peak will be later this year and possibly last into 2014.
This month’s sunspot number is out and shows a secondary peak may be underway. By official count, the sun averaged 72.4 sunspots/day last month. It is the first month to have more than 70 sunspots since December of 2011.
What does it mean? What happens next?
Double-peaked Solar Sunspot Maximums Not Uncommon
During each cycle, sunspots move in from both poles toward the solar equator. Sometimes, one hemisphere reaches its maximum before the other. When that happens there is a 2nd peak after the first when the second hemisphere finally reaches its maximum at a later date.
Sunspot activity is a messy business. Activity can vary wildly from month to month. 2011 experienced a special event. In the 5 months leading up to November 2011, sunspots nearly tripled from 37 to 97 and then in the next 3 months plummeted down again to 33.
Wild fluctuations make sunspot cycles seem more jagged than smooth. Cycle 24 would be no exception, if it weren’t so weak.
No one fully understands why sunspot activity changes so abruptly over short time periods, or from cycle to cycle, but it does.
What Happens Now?
The last two solar sunspot maximums, Cycle 22 and Cycle 23, were double peaked.
Cycle 22 back in 1991 and Cycle 23 in 2001.
Now, Cycle 24 appears to be following in their footsteps, even in their decline.
The southern hemisphere is the one lagging behind this year.
If history repeats itself then the secondary peak will be weaker than the first. Solar max will finish by the end of this year and then rapidly start descending towards minimum in 2014.
Major research reported in 2011 by the AAS shows next Cycle 25 will be even weaker:
- Jet stream missing or delayed at sun’s poles
- Fading sunspots
- Sunspot umbral magnetic fields weakening
Based on these findings, sunspots might effectively disappear all together next cycle.
How sunspots go, so goes the sun’s magnetic flux, solar wind, solar storms, flares, CMEs and radiant energy. All decline with less sunspot activity.
Total Solar Irradiance (TSI)
TSI is the total solar energy output received on Earth. It is measured in watts per square meter.
The University of Colorado is conducting a satellite-based experiment called the “SOlar Radiation & Climate Experiment” (SORCE). In it they track and report TSI.
The SORCE TSI reconstruction above clearly shows that solar energy output has increased from a low in the mid-1600s to now.
But that is changing. In the satellite era beginning about 1978, TSI has leveled off and is starting to show a slow decline.
In the last three months, SORCE shows TSI is still slowly declining. That is unusual for being at solar maximum activity.
Last month’s sunspot number appears to signal the start of the second peak of solar activity. If so, it is earlier than Pesnell predicted. Nothing in this cycle seems to be normal.
The April jump could just be temporary. Sunspots might simply vanish again. However, the first 8 days of May have been very active, above 70 again so far.
As things stand now, it is looking like the secondary sunspot peak is now underway.
Where that leads, no one knows. Solar physics is full of surprises.
Empirical evidence points toward a long-term trend toward less solar activity, fewer sunspots, fewer solar storms, weaker solar wind and less solar radiant energy arriving on Earth.
How it will affect Earth’s long-term climate is yet to be determined.