Feeds

Solar Cycle 24 set to be a quiet affair

Least active since 1928, experts predict

Business security measures using SSL

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".

Two new areas of magnetic activity captured by STEREO. Pic: NASAThe 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." ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.