Solar Maximum Coming?

Just Like Night Follows Day!

Like Watt’s Up With That?, I’ve blogged more than a few times about the dearth of sunspots seen since cycle 24 began almost two years ago.  But that doesn’t mean that there are none, nor does it mean that the number won’t increase to an expected maximum in two or three years.  Already, some, like Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), are predicting one whopping maximum.  Fraser Cain at Universe Today reports.

“The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one,” she says. If correct, the years ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958.

That was a solar maximum. The Space Age was just beginning: Sputnik was launched in Oct. 1957 and Explorer 1 (the first US satellite) in Jan. 1958. In 1958 you couldn’t tell that a solar storm was underway by looking at the bars on your cell phone; cell phones didn’t exist. Even so, people knew something big was happening when Northern Lights were sighted three times in Mexico. A similar maximum now would be noticed by its effect on cell phones, GPS, weather satellites and many other modern technologies.

Sounds like this will be a major annoyance, if it comes to pass, that is.

The linked article has a very nice explanation of the latest thinking about the origins of sunspots, which posits a kind of conveyor belt that runs under, but occasionally skims the sun’s surface.  It’s similar to the mechanism known to drive vast currents in the Earth’s oceans, but in this case the hot and very ionized gases take the sun’s magnetic field along for the ride.

“The top of the conveyor belt skims the surface of the sun, sweeping up the magnetic fields of old, dead sunspots. The ‘corpses’ are dragged down at the poles to a depth of 200,000 km where the sun’s magnetic dynamo can amplify them. Once the corpses (magnetic knots) are reincarnated (amplified), they become buoyant and float back to the surface.” Presto—new sunspots!

This explanation comes from Solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC).

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