The Sun Has An Anti-Climax

The solar disk on May 11th: Is it? Are they? Not quite (SOHO)
The solar disk on May 11th: Is it? Are they? Not quite (SOHO)

Some recent solar articles are freaking out, proclaiming that the Sun is waiting to unleash it’s fury on the Earth (re: Warning: Sunspot cycle beginning to rise) or that it’s lowering its energy output, possibly kickstarting Maunder Minimum 2.0 (re: New Forecast Calls for Calmer Sun).

So which one is it? Is the Sun just biding its time, waiting for the perfect moment to fire a salvo of flares at us? Or will it remain quiet, well into Solar Cycle 24, impacting our planet like the Maunder Minimum did during the Little Ice Age from the 16th-19th century?

It’s funny actually, both the above articles are based on the same research, and yet two very different conclusions were drawn from the text.

On the one hand, the Sun is acting rather strange; it’s undergoing a sustained solar minimum, the longest period of low sunspot population for the best part of a century. On the other hand, when the Sun does get active, steadily growing to a peak in activity for the 2012-2013 predicted solar maximum, the resulting flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) could inflict $2 trillion in damages on global infrastructure (according to a recent study), leaving us to mop up the mess for a decade. It’s these two extremes that are causing such a stir, generating the attention-grabbing headlines.

However, I seriously doubt that we are facing another Little Ice Age and I am highly skeptical of the predictions that the 11 years of Cycle 24 are going to be overly violent. To be honest, we just don’t know. Considering we live so close to the Sun, we actually know very little about it; to even begin trying to predict what it’s going to do next remains problematic.

That said, once the Sun starts producing lost of sunspots, this means magnetic activity is on the rise and solar activity is increasing, so when I see sunspots rotate into view, I can’t help but be a little excited. Today, it happened, two active regions appeared on the disk of the Sun. Could this be the real start to the solar cycle?


Today’s image is a magnetic map of the sun. Two active regions are circled. Their polarity identifies them as members of new Solar Cycle 24, but they lack the dark cores required of true sunspots. So, in spite of these lively magnetic imprints, we must still say “the sun is blank–no sunspots.”

No sunspots, another blank disk day and therefore low magnetic activity still.

How dull.

14 thoughts on “The Sun Has An Anti-Climax”

  1. Assume that the Paul LaViolette scenario holds true: every so often a wave of energy sweeps cosmic dust into our sun which responds with a spectacular series of explosions. Stretching the Tsunami analogy past breaking point, when a wave is approaching the shore, the only sign at first, is the loss of water as it draws out to the sea. It returns later of course!
    Can any smart person calculate what number of years advance warning we might get by the quiescence of the sun?
    To establish how likely this is requires some research: were there small LaViolette strikes upon the earth at some stage after the various minima? How would they be detected?

  2. I see, your dates were for the little ice age not the MM. I see also there is some disagreement over dates with some starting it as early as 1350.

  3. Nice to see someone FINALLY say “…we just don't know.” It is amazing that we predict the behavior of a process thats been going on for billions of years, based on just a few years observation. We still don't have a good idea of the mechanics and/or timing of the internal processes of the Sun, so we are reduced to looking at the surface and making guesstimates based on observations that aren't even standardized. Many solar observatories disagree on whether a sunspot is even a sunspot, or how many are there at at time. This is the fourth time scientists have “officially” announced the start of Cycle 24. One of these times they're gonna get it right, but I'm not betting it's this time…

  4. What? No Frost Fairs of the 1700's? But I do admit that I enjoy seeing the Northern Lights from my home in Northern MI. Perhaps this cycle will give us some spectacular shows as well 🙂

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