Solar cycle update: Twin peaks?

Mar 04, 2013 by Dr. Tony Phillips
Recent sunspot counts fall short of predictions. Credit: Dr. Tony Philips & NOAA/SWPC

Something unexpected is happening on the sun. 2013 is supposed to be the year of Solar Max, the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Yet 2013 has arrived and solar activity is relatively low. Sunspot numbers are well below their values in 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent for many months.

The quiet has led some observers to wonder if missed the mark. Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center has a different explanation:

"This is solar maximum," he suggests. "But it looks different from what we expected because it is double peaked."

holds that swings back and forth like a simple pendulum. At one end of the cycle, there is a quiet time with few sunspots and flares. At the other end, Solar Max brings high sunspot numbers and . It's a regular rhythm that repeats every 11 years.

Reality, however, is more complicated. Astronomers have been counting for centuries, and they have seen that the solar cycle is not perfectly regular. For one thing, the back-and-forth swing in sunspot counts can take anywhere from 10 to 13 years to complete; also, the amplitude of the cycle varies. Some solar maxima are very weak, others very strong.

Pesnell notes yet another complication: "The last two solar maxima, around 1989 and 2001, had not one but two peaks." Solar activity went up, dipped, then resumed, performing a mini-cycle that lasted about two years.

The same thing could be happening now. Sunspot counts jumped in 2011, dipped in 2012, and Pesnell expects them to rebound again in 2013: "I am comfortable in saying that another peak will happen in 2013 and possibly last into 2014," he predicts.

Another curiosity of the solar cycle is that the sun's hemispheres do not always peak at the same time. In the current cycle, the south has been lagging behind the north. The second peak, if it occurs, will likely feature the playing catch-up, with a surge in activity south of the sun's equator.

Pesnell is a leading member of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel, a blue-ribbon group of solar physicists who assembled in 2006 and 2008 to forecast the next . At the time, the sun was experiencing its deepest minimum in nearly a hundred years. Sunspot numbers were pegged near zero and x-ray flare activity flat-lined for months at a time. Recognizing that deep minima are often followed by weak maxima, and pulling together many other threads of predictive evidence, the panel issued this statement:

"The Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel has reached a consensus. The panel has decided that the next solar cycle (Cycle 24) will be below average in intensity, with a maximum sunspot number of 90. Given the date of solar minimum and the predicted maximum intensity, is now expected to occur in May 2013. Note, this is not a unanimous decision, but a supermajority of the panel did agree."

Given the tepid state of solar activity in Feb. 2013, a maximum in May now seems unlikely.

"We may be seeing what happens when you predict a single amplitude and the Sun responds with a double peak," comments Pesnell.

Incidentally, Pesnell notes a similarity between Solar Cycle 24, underway now, and 14, which had a double-peak during the first decade of the 20th century. If the two cycles are in fact twins, "it would mean one peak in late 2013 and another in 2015."

No one knows for sure what the sun will do next. It seems likely, though, that the end of 2013 could be a lot livelier than the beginning.

Explore further: SpaceX will try again Fri. to launch station cargo

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philw1776
3.1 / 5 (10) Mar 04, 2013
Even though the sun is "only" a simple ball of hydrogen, with some helium and impurities it looks like our models are still far from understanding solar cycle. Not surprising because many models attempting to predict natural phenomena even as simple as a fusion reactor often have some yet unknown factors missing. When nature sends us a signal in data that shows the model is way off it's a motivation for science to dig deeper and try again. Should be interesting.
Maggnus
3.3 / 5 (12) Mar 04, 2013
"Simple" indeed! :) Solar physics are far from the easier physics that some people seem to think it is!

A little off topic perhaps, but I find it interesting to see the lack of activity on Sol, which also corresponds to a smaller degree of solar energy arriving here. Combine that with the recent finding about aerosols from mid-level volcanism, and I would expect to see a dip in overall global warming. Seems such a dip has been documented.

If and when these brakes on the overall warming have been removed, I wonder how quickly we'll see temperatures rise. A little sobering.
verkle
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2013
The problem with the forecast in the above graph is that it expects a sunspot cycle of about 14 years, which is a lot longer than the normal 11 years. The current cycle did get off to a slow start, but it is hard to imagine that it will get delayed even more. I put my bets on the possibility that the maximum already happened, and we may not see a double peak.

Either way, the current cycle is quite unusual, and will be studied in detail for many years to come.

CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (7) Mar 04, 2013
Is this low sun activity the equivalent of the quiet before the solar storm?
Maggnus
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2013
Is this low sun activity the equivalent of the quiet before the solar storm?


Probably not. Sol has been observed to go through low sunspot activity in the past, and this has not translated into higher activity later. The activity is not well understood, however, so to say either way is more a guess than a certainty.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (8) Mar 04, 2013
Dr. Leif Svalgaard's speculation is a bit more informed

http://www.leif.org/research/

A number of his recent presentations have closed, "We're in for interesting times."
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2013
That looks like a really interesting site Doug, but as it relates to this article can you be a little more specific as to what you are pointing to?
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (10) Mar 04, 2013
No. If it was easy then everyone would do it - speculate intelligently. Do your own reading and research. There are hundreds of files there.
Maggnus
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 04, 2013
No. If it was easy then everyone would do it - speculate intelligently. Do your own reading and research. There are hundreds of files there.


Wow. Geeze ok thanks there Doug, nice chatting with you.
Q-Star
3.1 / 5 (9) Mar 04, 2013
That looks like a really interesting site Doug, but as it relates to this article can you be a little more specific as to what you are pointing to?


Sorry about the one rating, I was reaching for the "quote" button.

Svalgaard seems to one of those "gurus" with the "final answer" to age old questions. Though he is published, it is primarily in less than "stellar" (pun intended) journals.

His training was originally in computer programming. He likes to associate himself with Stanford, but hasn't been actively connected there since 1978,,, and when he was, it was a computer guy, tangentially connected to the science researchers.

Since that time he has "reinvented" himself as one of the foremost experts on solar science and such. He is a self-taught "solar scientist". His bona fides are very elusive.
Maggnus
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 04, 2013
Thanks Q :) I've noticed he seems to be quoted often on WUWT, which made me immediately suspicious given their well known unbiased opinions. O_o

Seems Svalgaard predicted this cycle would be significantly above average a few months ago, but has recently come out saying that the activity has been delayed. He appears to equate solar cycles with planetary movements. New theory to me, but on an admittedly quick read, it seems he prescribes to a theory that solar activity can be predicted by the movements of the giant planets.

His recent prediction that we would see a more active solar cycle this time seems to have missed the mark.
deatopmg
1 / 5 (8) Mar 04, 2013
Take a look at the history of NOAA's predictions for cycle 24. It has been consistent for the last 6 - 7 yrs, i.e. always wrong.
Though no one knows exactly what is in store for the rest of this cycle, or future cycles, the people at NOAA have thus far demonstrated complete ignorance and lack of imagination. No matter though, their jobs are secure because they are employees of the uS Government.
am_Unition
4 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2013
Take a look at the history of NOAA's predictions for cycle 24. It has been consistent for the last 6 - 7 yrs, i.e. always wrong.
Though no one knows exactly what is in store for the rest of this cycle, or future cycles, the people at NOAA have thus far demonstrated complete ignorance and lack of imagination. No matter though, their jobs are secure because they are employees of the uS Government.


Heyyyyy, I know you!

You're from Italy, where they convict seismologists (who didn't perfectly predict a deadly quake) to manslaughter.

Please, if you'd like to inform us of your major breakthrough(s) in solar science, we're all ears.
DirtySquirties
1.3 / 5 (8) Mar 05, 2013
Maybe this is a dumb question, but how do we know it isn't going hog wild on the opposite side of the sun?
deepsand
2.3 / 5 (9) Mar 05, 2013
Maybe this is a dumb question, but how do we know it isn't going hog wild on the opposite side of the sun?

What makes you think that the Sun does not rotate? :confused:
katesisco
1 / 5 (6) Mar 05, 2013
Well, it is too bad we do not have records further back. Is this single peak because we are over the dark rift? Last cycle we lagged and scientists feel safe in saying that will repeat here but no one can say. Maybe if we had records further back (like those weird myths of no sun) Our sun roller-coasters up into the n galactic plain ( where M Mathis says photons dominate) across the dark rift (where we are now) and down into the s galactic plane (where M Mathis says anti photons dominate) These are all unknowns for us tech humans.
So maybe the north pole won't reverse. Or maybe it will take 4 years instead of two. That would imply an ongoing event.
We have so many satellites in orbit our science is now building a shooter to remove them. Sheesh.
Maggnus
5 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2013
Maybe this is a dumb question, but how do we know it isn't going hog wild on the opposite side of the sun?


As Deepsand mentions, a) the sun rotates and b) there have been literally 10's of missions to study SOl from all angles, including over the poles.

Furthermore, there are missions that can detect "out of sight" solar events such that we can have observatories in place to watch them as they rotate into view.
am_Unition
5 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2013
Maybe this is a dumb question, but how do we know it isn't going hog wild on the opposite side of the sun?


It used to be that we didn't know, until the modern space age. Early records were kept by early astronomers projecting the solar disk down onto a white surface.

Direct observations just started a few years ago with STEREO A(head) and B(ehind).

Before that, we were able to infer somewhat, with GONG and other helioseismology instruments.

"Ulysses" is a good example of a polar solar orbiter.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (9) Mar 06, 2013
In dense aether model the current era of global warming is the result of dense cloud of neutrinos at the galactic plane. In addition, this dark matter shifts the center of solar system mass toward the center of Sun, which slows down the circulation of solar plasma beneath the surface of Sun a prohibits the switching of solar cycles with Jupiter planet.
deepsand
2.8 / 5 (11) Mar 06, 2013
Maybe this is a dumb question, but how do we know it isn't going hog wild on the opposite side of the sun?


It used to be that we didn't know, until the modern space age.

Hm-mm ... no.

It was deduced that Sol rotated long before man ventured into space, with the first measurements of the equatorial rotation rate dating to at least as early as 1630. See http://en.wikiped...rotation .
Q-Star
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 06, 2013
In dense aether model the current era of global warming is the result of dense cloud of neutrinos at the galactic plane. In addition, this dark matter shifts the center of solar system mass toward the center of Sun, which slows down the circulation of solar plasma beneath the surface of Sun a prohibits the switching of solar cycles with Jupiter planet.


Zeph, I'm truly impressed. Astounded really,,,,

Who else could have possibly put two and two together, and show that the "current era of global warming is the result of a dense cloud of neutrinos",,,,,,

Does the "dense aether model" say anything about the past eras of global warming? Or even more important, the future eras?
Maggnus
5 / 5 (3) Mar 06, 2013
In dense aether model the current era of global warming is the result of dense cloud of neutrinos at the galactic plane. In addition, this dark matter shifts the center of solar system mass toward the center of Sun, which slows down the circulation of solar plasma beneath the surface of Sun a prohibits the switching of solar cycles with Jupiter planet.


And blah de blah. Blah blah. De blah blah. Blah de blah.

Zephyr you are a fraud. You keep spouting the same mumbo pseudo-speak everywhere you post. Take your bull crap and spout it somewhere else.
am_Unition
not rated yet Mar 20, 2013

Hm-mm ... no.

It was deduced that Sol rotated long before man ventured into space, with the first measurements of the equatorial rotation rate dating to at least as early as 1630. See http://en.wikiped...rotation .


Yes, absolutely, this I know... but I interpreted the question as inquiring about actual methods of imaging the far side of the sun's surface to get a sunspot count or see the field lines in the corona, observe anti-earthward directed flares, CME's, etc.

I know I'm much too late to defend my honor, :P
deepsand
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2013

Hm-mm ... no.

It was deduced that Sol rotated long before man ventured into space, with the first measurements of the equatorial rotation rate dating to at least as early as 1630. See http://en.wikiped...rotation .


Yes, absolutely, this I know... but I interpreted the question as inquiring about actual methods of imaging the far side of the sun's surface to get a sunspot count or see the field lines in the corona, observe anti-earthward directed flares, CME's, etc.

I know I'm much too late to defend my honor, :P

The OP appeared to me to be drawing an analogy to the so-called dark side on the Moon, implying that far side activity might persistently be dramatically different from that of the near side.
am_Unition
5 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2013

The OP appeared to me to be drawing an analogy to the so-called dark side on the Moon, implying that far side activity might persistently be dramatically different from that of the near side.


Instead of "persistently", I guess I was thinking OP meant more of "instantaneously".

The general solar cycle trends (like sunspot number) should definitely be observable from any side of the sun, as you have ~50% of the data.

We're good here, totally in agreement with you. :)
deepsand
2 / 5 (8) Mar 20, 2013
The general solar cycle trends (like sunspot number) should definitely be observable from any side of the sun, as you have ~50% of the data.

Given that the "far side" is constantly rotating into view, and that the lifespan of a sunspot can be as long as few months, I'd say that we've more than 50% of the data available from our terrestrial view alone.
wranglerwayne
5 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2013
NASA sites are suggesting that the Solar Cycle 24 may be a twin of SC 14 in 1906. This, to me, seems wrong. The way they counted sunspots today, is more generous than back then. So, in reality, this would seem to make SC 24 actually smaller than SC 14, as they are counting more smaller sunspots today than previously in 1914.

so the official maximum will be at least this high and this late. We are currently over four years into Cycle 24. The current predicted and observed size makes this the smallest sunspot cycle since Cycle 14 which had a maximum of 64.2 in February of 1906.
wranglerwayne
not rated yet Apr 02, 2013
Oops, the second paragraph should have been in quotes from a NASA site.

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