Sunspots – Major!
Finally – A Cycle 24 Spot Appears
Okay, it’s not exactly the first of the cycle, but it’s a good one, and a real harbinger that the next solar cycle has begun in earnest.
The clincher for identifying these spots as belonging to a new solar cycle is their magnetic polarity. Sunspots often appear in pairs of opposite polarity (i.e. one will be magnetic north, the other will be magnetic south), and this new cluster is consistent with the polarity expected for Cycle 24 sunspots. SOHO uses its Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) Magnetogram instrument to observe magnetic polarity, and it would appear that the polarity of this sunspot cluster has an opposite magnetic north/south to previous Cycle 23 observations.
So does this mean that solar activity is increasing now, from the (relatively) quiet period we’ve been seeing? According to Ian O’Neill (and I quote) “Your guess is as good as mine…”
Although this is an encouraging observation, the Sun could revert back to its “blank” state as quickly as it revealed these sunspots to SOHO. However, there is also a chance this could herald the beginning of accelerated solar activity, possibly still fulfilling NASA’s 2006 prediction that Solar Cycle 24 will be a “doozy.”
Much better than having another Maunder Minimum.
Update: Image link added.