Warning: Sunspot cycle beginning to rise

May 08, 2009 By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID , AP Science Writer
FILE - In this undated image provided by NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) shows a new sunspot, upper right, which after many weeks of a blank sun with no sunspots and very few sunspots this entire year, emerged Sept. 23, 2008. When the sun sneezes it's Earth that gets sick. It's time for the sun to move into a busier period for sunspots, and while forecasters expect a relatively mild outbreak by historical standards, one major solar storm can cause havoc with satellites and electrical systems here. (AP Photo/NASA/ESA, FILE)

(AP) -- When the sun sneezes it's Earth that gets sick. It's time for the sun to move into a busier period for sunspots, and while forecasters expect a relatively mild outbreak by historical standards, one major solar storm can cause havoc with satellites and electrical systems here.

Like hurricanes, a weak cycle refers to the number of storms, but it only takes one powerful storm to create chaos, said scientist Doug Biesecker of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's space weather prediction center.

A report by the National Academy of Sciences found that if a storm as severe as one in 1859 occurred today, it could cause $1 trillion to $2 trillion in damage the first year and take four to 10 years to recover.

The 1859 storm shorted out telegraph wires, causing fires in North America and Europe, sent readings of Earth's magnetic field soaring, and produced northern lights so bright that people read newspapers by their light.

Today there's a lot more than telegraph lines at stake. Vulnerable electrical grids circle the globe, satellites now vital for all forms of communications can be severely disrupted along with the . Indeed, the panel warned that a strong blast of solar wind can threaten national security, transportation, financial services and other essential functions.

The solar prediction center works closely with industry and government agencies to make sure they are prepared with changes in activity and prepared to respond when damage occurs, Biesecker said in a briefing.

While the most extreme events seem unlikely this time, there will probably be smaller scale disruptions to electrical service, airline flights, GPS signals and television, radio and cell phones.

On the plus side, the solar storms promote the colorful auroras, known as the northern and southern lights, high in the sky over polar areas.

An international panel headed by Biesecker said Friday it expects the upcoming solar cycle to be the weakest since 1928.

The prediction calls for the to peak in May 2013 with 90 sunspots per day, averaged over a month. If the prediction proves correct it will be the weakest cycle since a peak of 78 daily sunspots in 1928.

Measurement of sunspot cycles began in the 1750s.

The panel described solar storms as eruptions of energy and matter that escape from the sun. At least some of this heads toward the Earth.

Solar cycles of more and fewer sunspots last several years and the cycle currently building up will be number 24 since counting began.

It's only the third time researchers have tried to make such a forecast. In 1989 a panel predicted Cycle 22, which peaked that year. And in 1996 scientists predicted Cycle 23.

Both earlier groups did better at predicting timing than intensity, according to Biesecker.

The last solar minimum occurred in December, the researchers said.

W. Dean Pesnell of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the forecasts are based on such indicators as the strength of the sun's magnetic field at the poles and the reaction of the Earth's magnetic field to the sun. Both are weak right now, he said, with only a few sunspots visible since 2007.

A preliminary forecast issued in 2007 was split over the outlook for the upcoming cycle, Biesecker said the researchers have now reached consensus.

---

On the Net:

NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov

Center: http://www.spaceweather.gov

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 10

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yyz
3.4 / 5 (5) May 08, 2009
On what data is the title of this article based? As of this post the sunspot count is ZERO. It has been for some time. It seems like this cycle is getting off to an awfully slow start!
LariAnn
1.5 / 5 (6) May 08, 2009
It's like the article stated; it takes only one storm. For example, the year that hurricane Andrew hit was a quiet season for hurricanes, but that didn't stop Andrew from being the destructive storm that it was. Andrew was the first storm of that year and arrived near the end of August, unlike what has happened in recent years with a number of hurricanes already logged before the end of August. So complacency is not really an option.
Sean_W
3.1 / 5 (7) May 09, 2009
Since the cycle is so slow starting and so weak to begin with, do the predictions for the solar maximum change? Currently it is for around 2012 which impresses the end-of-the-worlders and Mayan calendar enthusiasts. Are they going to have to delay their galactic plane/pole shift parties until 2013?
MatthiasF
5 / 5 (5) May 09, 2009
In this undated image provided by NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) shows a new sunspot, upper right, which after many weeks of a blank sun with no sunspots and very few sunspots this entire year, emerged Sept. 23, 2008.


Anyone else get confused by this run on sentence? If the image is of a new sunspot, why do they mention Sept. 23? It's May 2009.

The rest of the article is just as confusing. Hopping around without a point. Is it a "fear the sun" article? Is it presenting any new information?

Seems like a really half-hearted effort to spew some fear-mongering misinformation.
ealex
5 / 5 (4) May 09, 2009
Wow, here I am trying to find non-hysterical reporting on Physorg and what do I find? Hysterical reporting and OH MY GOD PANIC NOW headline. Jeez.

Also apparently a sunspot that appeared a year ago is big news.

david_42
3.3 / 5 (3) May 09, 2009
Very badly written. The trailing STEREO probe has detected two events this week, which should be visible from Earth next week. See New Scientist.
Mercury_01
4 / 5 (3) May 09, 2009
or spaceweather.com
phaedo
5 / 5 (3) May 09, 2009
Wow... has it taken 8 Months for light from the sun to reach us?? Is that why we're only now being scared by a single sunspot from last year? As for me I'm more worried about the implication that the speed of light has slowed waaaaaay down!!
am_Unition
5 / 5 (3) May 09, 2009
Just another Associated Press information butchering.

I feel for all the poor radio hams who've had little to no opportunities to send or receive signals over any significant distance.

solarcycle24.com is my personal fave.

And interestingly enough, the cycle was forecast to peak in early 2012, but now they've pushed it back to near the start of 2013. So no, all the new-age parties are still raging.
Trippy
4 / 5 (3) May 09, 2009
A /little/ bit of research reveals that there was a CME and radio burst (from a sunspot) on May 8th:
http://sohowww.na..._195.jpg
Soho Magnetogram:
http://sohowww.na...est.html
The NOAA press release this appears to be based on:
http://www.spacew...4sf7hst6
Finally, spaceweather.com's archive for May 8th:
http://www.spacew...p?view=1&day=08&month=05&year=2009

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