Suddenly, the sun is eerily quiet: Where did the sunspots go?

Jul 21, 2014 by Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times
The Sun by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA

The sun has gone quiet. Almost too quiet. A few weeks ago it was teeming with sunspots, as you would expect since we are supposed to be in the middle of solar maximum-the time in the sun's 11-year cycle when it is the most active.

But now, there is hardly a sunspot in sight. In an image taken Friday by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, there is a tiny smidgen of brown just right of center where a small sunspot appears to be developing. But just one day before, there was nothing. It was a totally spotless day.

So what's going on here? Is the "All Quiet Event" as solar physicist Tony Phillips dubbed it, a big deal, or not?

"It is weird, but it's not super weird," said Phillips, who writes about solar activity on his web site SpaceWeather.com. "To have a spotless day during solar maximum is odd, but then again, this solar maximum we are in has been very wimpy."

Phillips notes that this is the weakest to have been observed in the space age, and it is shaking out to be the weakest one in the past 100 years, so the spotless day was not so totally out of left field.

"It all underlines that solar physicists really don't know what the heck is happening on the sun," Phillips said. "We just don't know how to predict the sun, that is the take away message of this event."

Sunspots are interesting to solar observers because they are the region of the sun where solar activity such as (giant flashes of light) and coronal mass ejections (when material from the sun goes shooting off into space) originate.

They are caused by highly concentrated magnetic fields that are slightly cooler than the surrounding surface of the sun, which is why they appear dark to us. Those intense magnetic fields can get twisted up and tangled, which causes a lot of energy to build up. Solar flares and occur when that energy is released in a very explosive way.

Alex Young, a heliophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center, said it is hard to say what is and isn't unusual when it comes to the sun.

"We've only been observing the sun in lots of detail in the last 50 years," he said. "That's not that long considering it's been around for 4.5 billion years."

And it's not like astronomers have never seen the sun this quiet before. Three years ago, on Aug. 14, 2011 it was completely free of sunspots. And, as Phillips points out, that year turned out to have relatively high overall with several X-class flares. So in that case, the spotless sun was just a "temporary intermission," as he writes on his .

Whether this quiet period will be similarly short-lived or if it will last longer remains to be seen.

"You just can't predict the ," Phillips said.

Explore further: NASA's SDO sees giant January sunspots

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User comments : 23

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Miriandandes
2.1 / 5 (10) Jul 21, 2014
Sunspot numbers going down is not surprising considering we're approaching a solar grand minimum. The sun's activity as a whole has been dwindling for some time, leading to not only reduced sunspots, but climate extremes on our planet.
There's also speculation that a solar grand minimum is what causes the ice ages our planet has experienced several times throughout its existence.
Arties
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 21, 2014
The sunspots count simply IS noisy
Benni
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 21, 2014
Next round of climate change now on the way...........
ryggesogn2
1.4 / 5 (8) Jul 21, 2014
"There's loads more work to do in order to fully understand where these particles end up and how they influence lightning but if we can understand this effect, there is the tantalising possibility that we could use our observations of solar wind streams from space to forecast the severity of lightning events several weeks in advance."
http://blog.solar...-to-fly/
adam_russell_9615
4.2 / 5 (10) Jul 21, 2014
Solar weather report for this week:
Sunny
Doug_Huffman
1.3 / 5 (7) Jul 22, 2014
Sunspot numbers going down is not surprising considering we're approaching a solar grand minimum.
LOL SSN is a sinusoidal, so an extreme is always impending. The concern hyped is that the most recent extreme magnitude reinforced an unexpected trend. Induction from a noisy to random process is freighted and hides The Black Swan.

My cottage @ N 45.86° is snug, but we are doing things like installing insulating window blinds and new storm doors.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (19) Jul 22, 2014
"It all underlines that solar physicists really don't know what the heck is happening on the sun," Phillips said.

Yep, pretty much on point. Probably because the physics they employ to describe it are completely flawed.
jonnyboygg
1.4 / 5 (11) Jul 22, 2014
obama took them

like he took everything else from the united states of america.
TheDon
1.4 / 5 (10) Jul 22, 2014
We still haven't reached polar flip in this cycle...it should have happened at some point by now....seems to be right on the edge. Definitely something going on. It should be noted that we are also seeing atmospheric changes never witnessed on other planets in our solar system as well. Drastic in fact compared to climate events here on earth.
Vietvet
4.5 / 5 (12) Jul 22, 2014
We still haven't reached polar flip in this cycle...it should have happened at some point by now....seems to be right on the edge. Definitely something going on. It should be noted that we are also seeing atmospheric changes never witnessed on other planets in our solar system as well. Drastic in fact compared to climate events here on earth.


Citations?
Benni
1.2 / 5 (10) Jul 22, 2014
What's it matter about anything going on with the sun? I thought the 1998 Hockey Stick Crowd had proven the sun has nothing to do with weather patterns on earth? Now they're concerned about it, and so much so the HSC on this site has swarmed en masse to the one star vote.

Just one question HSC, have any of you ever seen a "differential equation" you could solve?
cantdrive85
1.2 / 5 (12) Jul 23, 2014
Those who use the transistor analogy of the solar surface doesn't see this action as being as eerie as the solar physicists above see it.

http://electric-c...0Sun.pdf
Eddy Courant
2.2 / 5 (5) Jul 23, 2014
Good thing the sun has no affect on our climate.
rockwolf1000
4.5 / 5 (17) Jul 23, 2014
What's it matter about anything going on with the sun? I thought the 1998 Hockey Stick Crowd had proven the sun has nothing to do with weather patterns on earth? Now they're concerned about it, and so much so the HSC on this site has swarmed en masse to the one star vote.

Just one question HSC, have any of you ever seen a "differential equation" you could solve?


You will continue to receive one star votes if you continue to post irrelevant nonsense. No where in the article is the earth's climate mentioned. The article is strictly about the physics of the sun and it was only the denier camp of idiots and losers making the leap to a climate change connection.

Grasping at straws much?

Examples of off topic posting:
miriandandes - ice ages
benni - climate change
ryggysoggypants - lightning
doug - cottage
cantthink - EU
johnnybogg - obama
thedon - polar flip
benni - hockey stick

Wow. Did you guys even read the article or do you just like the pretty pictures?
ryggesogn2
1.5 / 5 (8) Jul 23, 2014
"The activity of the sun may have more of an influence on lightning storms on Earth than was previously thought, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Reading in England found that when an especially fast-moving solar wind washed over the Earth, there was a corresponding uptick in the number of lightning storms recorded on the planet."
"So what's going on? The researchers can't say for sure, but one possibility is that charged particles from the sun are riding the wave of these especially fast solar winds. While they don't move quite as quickly as the cosmic rays, they may move fast enough to serve the same function as the cosmic rays with the aid of a speedy push from the solar wind."
http://www.latime...ory.html
ViperSRT3g
5 / 5 (7) Jul 23, 2014
Sun - Y U DO DIS?

But in all seriousness, the sun HAS been behaving strangely this cycle. The fact that it has managed to reach zero sunspots at any point leading up to, or coming down from a solar maximum is pretty odd. Aside from the mentioned sunspot free event in 2011, has it ever been sunspot free just a couple of years from previous solar maximums? (Sunspot free as in zero observable spots using the current technology of the time since we now have STEREO in place)
yep
1.5 / 5 (12) Jul 24, 2014
"..the pedestrian Sun exhibits a variety of phenomena that defy contemporary theoretical understanding. We need look no farther than the sunspot, or the intensely filamentary structure of the photospheric magnetic field, or the spicules, or the origin of the small magnetic bipoles that continually emerge in the supergranules, or the heat source that maintains the expanding gas in the coronal hole, or the effective magnetic diffusion that is so essential for understanding the solar dynamo, or the peculiar internal rotation inferred from helioseismology, or the variation of solar brightness with the level of solar activity, to name a few of the more obvious mysterious macrophysical phenomena exhibited by the Sun."
Eugene N. Parker
The standard model is bunk and that is why the EU is relevant, because it explains these observations. "sunspots are bundles of parallel current filaments drawn together according to Ampère's law and punching through the photosphere" Look at cantdrives link
johnsonrichard650
1 / 5 (4) Jul 24, 2014
Thank you very much for publishing this kind of article. I like your article very much. I want to share my website details with you, more space and astronomy related material exists at http://www.nanowerk.com/ This site is also more resourceful with science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, space and astronomy related latest inventions and news.
FastEddy
1 / 5 (4) Jul 28, 2014
We still haven't reached polar flip in this cycle... it should have happened at some point by now ...


Another fear monger. The Solar "flip cycle" is not due for another 40,000 years, plus or minus 100,000 years. This kind of gibberish is just like what gives global worming such a bad name.
FastEddy
1 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2014
What's it matter about anything going on with the sun? I thought the 1998 Hockey Stick Crowd had proven the sun has nothing to do with weather patterns on earth? ...


You will continue to receive one star votes if you continue to post irrelevant nonsense. ... Grasping at straws much? ...Wow. Did you guys even read the article or do you just like the pretty pictures?


Right again, Rocky ... too many irrelevancies.

But, this article is a bit late to the Sunspot counting game. The Solar Sunspot Minimum(s) are being noted and have been noted for several years (suspicious0bservers.org, Old Farmer's Almanac, et al) ... And the subliminal pitch for "more studies" = g'ment funding = Doh!
FastEddy
1 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2014
... But in all seriousness, the sun HAS been behaving strangely this cycle. ... Aside from the mentioned sunspot free event in 2011, has it ever been sunspot free just a couple of years from previous solar maximums? ...


Yes. Apparently there have been several cycles of Sun spot "minimums" in the last 500+ years, often associated with Earth side cooling trends and even mini-ice ages and the freezing over of the Thames River (to cite one example).
maitriandkaruna
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2014
JR650, just visited your web site and love it!!! Will meet expansive minds out there on occasion for now. Think it prudent to move away from the academically based banter for awhile. Science is not ready to open to the ONE truth, but it is coming. All things in their own time. Thanks so much for giving me an alternative internet option :-)
Mike_Massen
5 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2014
FastEddy muttered this oddity
Another fear monger. The Solar "flip cycle" is not due for another 40,000 years, plus or minus 100,000 years. This kind of gibberish is just like what gives global worming such a bad name.
Say WOT ?

Did you check your limits before posting ?

As late as 40K + 100K makes it 140K years
As early as 40K - 100K makes it ANY time from 60K years ago until the suggested 40K in future.

So in essence it could happen any time from now onwards until 140K in the future, isnt that you should be stating plus or minus 100K in respect of the median of in 40K years ?