Sunspot Double-Peak Over?
The Royal Observatory of Belgium, official keeper of sunspot records, promptly published its June sunspot number on July 1st. It is 52.5. That is a pathetically small number for being at Solar Cycle 24 maximum activity. In a normal cycle the number would be about 119.
The monthly sunspot number means that in June there was an average of 52.5 sunspots visible on the sun each day. That is way down by 26 spots/day from last month.
It is also important to note that June was the first month in this solar cycle that southern hemisphere sunspot activity was a lot higher than northern hemisphere activity.
It looks like the second, and possibly last, major peak of this solar cycle may be coming to a close. If that proves true then this cycle will slowly descend into future oblivion.
What does this month’s data tell us? What are the implications for the future?
Solar Cycle 24 Overview
Sunspots are fickle lovers. Counts gyrate wildly up and down all over the place from month to month, in largely unpredictable short-term spikes. For a few months the sun is blazing with solar flares and then solar activity can be cut in half or less in the next few months after that.
In the upswing to solar maximum this cycle, sunspot activity skyrocketed to nearly 100 spots/day in November 2011. That was far sooner and more intense than predicted. Most all those spots were in the sun’s northern hemisphere.
Then, just as suddenly as they came, the sunspots went away. By February 2012 they had fallen off to just 33.
A 2nd peak earnestly began in February 2013 and now appears to have peaked last month. This month, most of its sunspots were in the sun’s southern hemisphere.
In the first table above there are two columns labeled Rn and Rs. Rn shows the number of sunspots that were in the northern hemisphere. Rs shows the number of sunspots that were in the southern hemisphere.
There were twice as many sunspots in the southern hemisphere in June than in the northern. That is an important hemispheric switch. It is the first month this cycle that southern hemisphere sunspots were dominate over northern sunspots.
That is an indication that the southern sunspot peak is underway. But don’t expect it to be as strong as the northern hemisphere peak of November 2011. Secondary peaks usually aren’t.
“Sparkles” Discovered in Solar Atmosphere
Last month, on June 20th, a NASA camera called the “High Resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C)” was launched on a sounding rocket fired from the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range.
Investigators discovered a new coronal phenomena called “sparkles” within 5 minutes of reviewing the data collected, as shown in the above video clip.
The latest sunspot and magnetic field data from last month are looking like Solar Cycle 24 is starting to wind down. Southern hemisphere sunspot activity has been exceptionally weak so far this cycle.
Some solar physicists have suggest that the current cycle could be like Cycle 14 and have many more peaks lasting until 2015. It could still happen, but things are not looking promising.
The two peaks so far this cycle are considerably more pronounced than Cycle 14 peaks and a continuing decline in sunspot magnetic field strength indicates that sunspots are fading away.
The next cycle, Cycle 25, is already forecast to be the weakest in over 300 years! Its forecast peak is only 7 spots/day at maximum activity!!
The discovery of “sparkles” in the sun’s corona last month only proves that the sun has many more hidden secrets to reveal.
The approaching pause in solar activity next cycle could have a profound impact on climate change on Earth. These are exciting times in solar physics.