Solar Cycle 24 set to be a quiet affair
Least active since 1928, experts predict
The Sun's "Solar Cycle 24", which kicked off back in December 2008, will be "the weakest since 1928", according to an international panel of experts.
The "nearly unanimous prediction", as New Scientist describes it, follows a certain amount of hemming and hawing as to quite how much sunspot activity we could expect in the run-up to the "solar maximum", now set for May 2013.
The Sun's 11-year cycles end with a reversal of the star's magnetic field, and are marked by the migration of sunspots to its equator, where they fizzle out. The next cycle is heralded by a new "high-latitude" sunspot, at around 25 to 30 degrees latitude, and whose magnetic polarity is the reverse of those of the previous cycle.
However, the transition is not a cut-and-dried process. New Scientist notes that while the experts had suggested the Sun "would probably hit the lowest point in its activity in March 2008 before ramping up to a new cycle that would reach its maximum in late 2011 or mid-2012", it refused to play ball and "entered an unexpectedly long lull in activity with few new sunspots".
The Sun is, though, now displaying a couple of new active regions (seen at top left of pic) captured last week by of NASA's twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft .
Panel chairman Doug Biesecker, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Center, declared: "There's a lot of indicators that Cycle 24 is ready to burst out."
When it does "burst out", the Sun will eventually reach a predicted solar maximum of 90 sunspots per day, which is "below average for solar cycles, making the coming peak the weakest since 1928, when an average of 78 sunspots was seen daily".
That doesn't necessarily mean Earth will be spared the "extreme storms that could knock out power grids and space satellites". Beisecker hedged: "As hard as it is to predict sunspot number, it's even harder to predict the actual level of solar activity that responds to those sunspots. If there are fewer storms, they could still be just as intense."
Not all the experts are agreed that Cycle 24 will be a moderate affair. Panel member Mausumi Dikpati of the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, and colleagues have "developed a solar model that predicts a bumper crop of sunspots and a cycle that is 30 to 50 per cent stronger than ... Cycle 23".
She told New Scientist: "It's still in a quiet period. As soon as it takes off it could be a completely different story." ®
NOAA can't predict the solar mean, they don't know
In 1913 we had a yearly mean of 1.4 (sunspots)
In 1917 the mean was 103.9
I have my own theory on the cycle, and my prediction is for a much more active Maximum than the NOAA predicts.
The chances for a destructive CME (one that is both powerful and with a trajectory to hit the planet) is random, but with a high level of activity a serious risk.
The Carrington event occured in 1859, the mean of that year was 93.8
Fuckers took my Northern Lights
Which of course means unless you live uncomfortably close to the arctic circle, you won't get a decent light display of an evening.
By the time the sun gets off its lazy arse and starts putting out some decent sized solar flares, the shift in magnetic north will mean you'll need to live somewhere close to Siberia to get the best shows too.
Of course the same is true for the more pansy sounding Southern Lights. It's a little known fact outside of the UK that things in the saarf are less manly than those in the north, but I educate where I can. Mind you everywhere outside of Britain might as well be the saarf, because nowhere does a decent chips'n'gravy, so the whole thing is wasted anyway. Who wants to sit down and watch the Northern Lights if you don't have a decent bag of chips to go with it?
And why, pray, was it felt appropriate to illustrate this story with a bob of Swarfega?