Solar Activity Makes Big Headlines

Last month had the largest monthly increase in solar sunspot activity since August of 1990!

October was a very busy month for solar storms linked to sunspots. They made global headlines.

Daily sunspot tallies make up the oldest continuous data series in all of science. It officially goes back to January of 1749.

Sunspots are ginormous solar magnetic storms that unleash powerful solar winds and lethal doses of radiation directly affecting Earth. Knowing how many there are is vitally important.

How accurate have sunspots been counted? How well have we recorded the 11-year sunspot cycle over the centuries?

The surprising answer to that question is, not very well!

A look at October’s daily sunspot tallies demonstrates it.

Counting Sunspots

Sunspots have been meticulously counted since Galileo started the practice back in 1609, just after the telescope was invented.

Today, most normal folks find out the daily count of sunspots from It republishes data from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC).

SpaceWeather showed a huge 228 sunspot count on October 23rd, 2013.

NOAA uses their own counting method, commonly called the “Boulder Sunspot Number” started back in 1951.

The problem is NOAA differs radically from Belgium’s internationally accepted counts.

The official daily sunspot number, now a 400-year long data set, is called the “International Sunspot Number” and is maintained by the Royal Observatory of Belgium. They took over that duty from the Zurich Observatory at its closure in 1981.

Responsibility for counting daily sunspots has been passed down from generation to generation starting with Rudolf Wolf who standardized counting and corrected all previous records in the 1840s.

NOAA and Belgium both count the same sunspots, yet get very different results!! NOAA applies Wolf’s original “relative sunspot number” calculation using its own set of observers and telescopes different from Belgium’s.

International Sunspot Number compared to NOAA’s Boulder Sunspot Number

This graph shows daily sunspot tallies from both NOAA and Belgium for last month. They are as different as a pterodactyl from a bird.

You can clearly see that some days one group’s counts go down while the other goes up and vice versa. NOAA recorded and reported an amazing 228 spots on October 23rd. Belgium reported just 93. For Belgium, almost half their day counts for October were more than October 23rd! NOAA’s 228 sticks up like the leaning tower of Pisa!. Not good.

It has been long known that Boulder’s counts are about 25% higher than Belgium’s. But even accounting for that, Boulder still calculates out to an October monthly sunspot number of 93 compared to Belgium’s officially accepted 85.6. That is still a big, big difference.

So who is right, NOAA or Belgium??

Belgium is right, of course. Why? Because Belgium counts are right by definition!

The Meaning of Belgium/NOAA Differences

Followers of should not put to much stock and trade in the daily sunspot number they see there. It is upstaged by Belgium.

NOAA uses its number because it more accurately records all sunspots, including the tiny insignificant ones. However it’s the big ones that cause all the havoc and neither method misses them.

Ultimately, Belgium and NOAA differences aren’t a big deal.

But wait… there’s more… much more!

Errors in the Long-Term 11-year Sunspot Record

What is a big deal is that the long-term sunspot record has flaws. Changes in how sunspots have been tallied over the last 400 years have introduced internal inconsistencies with the long-term record. That’s bad.

However, big changes are afoot. At the urging of solar physicist Leif Svalgaard, an international panel of scientists have been convened to look into that problem. It’s called the “Sunspot Number Workshops“. Its purpose is to establish a reliable, internally consistent sunspot record suitable for long-term studies. The current record is unsuitable because it is inconsistent.

They have had three formal meetings and one mini-meeting already. They will meet again in May 2014 to formalize and submit for publication an extended, internally consistent long-term sunspot and solar wind record.

This has huge implications for such things as climate science. The new records will go back further and breath new life into the oldest continuous data series in all of science.

No doubt the new, consistent sunspot record will invalidate some existing scientific research based on previously inconsistent data.

For example, it is generally accepted that there was a “Modern Grand Maximum” of solar activity that occurred last century. It is thought the sun was at its greatest peak of activity of the last 8,000 years. That, of course, could be responsible for making the Earth warmer.

But it is not real. Svalgaard has uncovered that an unannounced change to how sunspots were counted at Zurich back in the 1940s inflated the counts and artificially created the “Grand Maximum”.

At the very least, expect last century’s much ballyhooed “Grand Maximum” to go away.

Whatever other major reinterpretations of science it brings remains to be seen.


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Nov 3, 2013, in Business, Climate, climate change, economics, Energy, environment, nature, news, Opinion, Politics, science, space, Sun, sunspot report, technology, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Svalgaard is fighting a losing battle with the Sun’s pulsar core. He does not accept the climate game is over.

    Purposeful deception is a common theme emerging in the scientific community and in the press:

    How did George Orwell figure out serfdom was our fate in 1946 when he started writing the futuristic novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”?

    The first scientist to visit Hiroshima’s ruins in August 1945, Professor P. K. Kuroda, designed a research project to reveal the answer in 1960.

    See: “A Journey to the Core of the Sun” (in progress).

    1. A one page synopsis:

    2. Chapter 1: The first scientist to visit Hiroshima’s ruins in August 1945, Professor P. K. Kuroda

    Yesterday I started writing Chapter 2, knowing without doubt there is more validity in the conflicting opinions of a dozen skeptical scientists than in the consensus opinions of thousands of text-book authors, well-funded and tenured professors and Nobel Prize winners.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

    Sent from my iPhone

    • I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.

      I believe Svalgaard is quite likely the world’s leading authority on solar physics.

      I’m convinced of that for these reasons:
      1-He did it earlier and is the only person to predict SC24’s sunspot amplitude
      2-He based his prediction on physics, NOT statistics
      3-He discovered errors in the 11-year cycle record and is taking steps to fix it
      4-He discovered that the “Modern Grand Maximum” is not real

      Svalgaard has revolutionized how solar activity is forecast. When the 11-year sunspot record is corrected, through his initiative, he will deeply affect many other areas of science as the corrected long-term record is applied.

      There is no pulsar at the center of the sun. It’s a matter of basic physics.

      • Thank you for allowing opinions that differ from your own.

        There is a pulsar at the core of the Sun powered by the same source of energy that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Neutron repulsion.

        Observations also show that:

        1. Electrons separate from protons, and

        2. Atoms separate from pulsars

        Although there are attractive Coulomb forces in (1) and gravitational forces in (2).

  2. It’s a small point, and nothing to do with the subject of your post, but a gentle reminder of the difference between it’s (= it is) and its (= of it). Unfortunately they are commonly confused.

    • Thanks. Grammar matters!!… and I’m not very good at it. 😦

      Article corrected (I think)

      You point out one I struggle with. Long ago I got it in my head that “It’s” is the possessive of “it” and have been fighting that error ever since. 🙂

      Sometimes I lapse back into my old ways.

      This article has been reblogged, republished and referenced in a bunch of places. It’s a major embarrassment to publish with grammatical errors. It detracts from what is important… the content.

  3. Interesting, apart from the crazy comment about a pulsar inside the Sun. The problem is that the climate models used to scam people do not take into account the Sun, they ignore the influence of our star and focus on manmade CO2 which has zero impact.

    • It’s important to note that the sunspot record is known to be wrong. When it gets corrected then the “Modern Grand Maximum” will go away.

      So basically, if the climate models did take the sun into account, they’d probably still be wrong! lol!!!!

  4. On another Blog Svalgaard said that the 10.7cm radio flux was a much better way of tracking the solar cycle.

    • Yes, that is correct. It is. However, we don’t have a 400 year long record of 10.7 flux measurements like we do spots.

      That is why Svalgaard put together a panel to make needed corrections to the sunspot record. A lot of science is based on that record, and correcting it is very important.

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  6. The Boulder sunspot number is from NOAA SWPC, not NASA. Also, the Boulder daily SSN is not the same as the number of sunspots, or sunspot count. Here is the joint NOAA/USAF Solar Region Summary for 10/23/2013:

    Product: 1024SRS.txt
    :Issued: 2013 Oct 24 0030 UTC

    Prepared jointly by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA,

    Space Weather Prediction Center and the U.S. Air Force.

    Joint USAF/NOAA Solar Region Summary
    SRS Number 297 Issued at 0030Z on 24 Oct 2013
    Report compiled from data received at SWO on 23 Oct

    Regions with Sunspots. Locations Valid at 23/2400Z
    Nmbr Location Lo Area Z LL NN Mag Type

    1872 S18W40 058 0050 Dso 07 04 Beta

    1873 N11W33 051 0010 Axx 09 09 Alpha

    1875 N08W11 028 0610 Ekc 14 50 Beta-Gamma-Delta

    1877 S12E09 008 0320 Dki 08 17 Beta-Gamma-Delta

    1879 S13E22 356 0090 Cso 09 11 Beta

    IA. H-alpha Plages without Spots. Locations Valid at 23/2400Z Oct
    Nmbr Location Lo

    1868 N23W86 105
    1869 N16W56 075

    1871 N16W62 081
    1874 S11W61 080

    1880 N12W44 063
    Regions Due to Return 24 Oct to 26 Oct
    Nmbr Lat Lo

    1866 S16 283
    1862 S23 265


    There were five sunspot regions that day. Each region counts for 10 in the SSN, and each sunspot counts for 1, so Boulder SSN of 228 on that day, minus (5 regions x 10) = 178 sunspots scattered among the groups.

    Zurich numbers are calculated with data from only one observatory. NOAA uses a network of observatories around the world. The NOAA SSN is more sensitive to variation. The reason you see the Zurich and Boulder numbers diverge is that the regions are changing in size over time, and Boulder’s data is calculated from observations at multiple locations. So the Zurich number, calculated from one narrow window of observation will always be different.

    I don’t think a fresh look at the numbers will make the modern grand maximum go away. We know that the peak of cycle 19 in 1957-59 was extraordinary from multiple lines of evidence. For one thing, worldwide shortwave radio propagation was incredibly good, with stations running low power in the 10 meter band working all over the world, 24×7. There has been nothing like it before or since.

    • You are right, I stand corrected… boulder numbers come from NOAA’s SWPC. Article text corrected. Shame on me…100 lashes!!

      Even adjusted to 178, there is still a big spike on Oct. 23 whereas there is no spike in the International Sunspot Number record that day.

      Of course, all you say about shortwave radio is true. However, shortwave radio hasn’t been around that long. The previous closest sunspot peak matched similar to Cycle 19 came back before 1850, so based only on radio we can’t tell if the older peaks than 1850 (like Cycle 9 or 10) are bigger, smaller, or the same as 1957-59.

      Boulder captures finer (better) detail in their data than does the International Sunspot Number. Its critically important for satellite orbital calculations, modern communications and such things, but is not a long-term record.

      Belgium (Zurich counts) averages its counts from 63 cooperating stations. I assume they are globally distributed. For example, 57 of the 63 cooperating stations contributed to the Feb. 2014 counts:

      The modern day counting change made in the 1940s is why the modern peaks look bigger than they should in the long-term ISN record.

      The SSN workshops group will finish its work in May 2014 and after that we will find out if the modern maximum goes away or not.

      If I were a betting man – and I am!! – I’d bet the modern maximum goes bye-bye. 🙂

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