Stories tagged sunspots


Where, oh where, have my sunspots gone?: Sunspot activity tied a record low of zero in August, 2008.
Where, oh where, have my sunspots gone?: Sunspot activity tied a record low of zero in August, 2008.Courtesy NASA

For the first time in almost a century, the Sun has a spotless record. There were no observed sunspots in August. None. Zero. Zip. Can't get a record any lower than that. That's the first time this has happened since 1913.

That's before commercial radio. Before talking movies. Before World War I. Why, it's almost as long as since the last time the Cubs won the World Series.

Now, that's a long time!

Plus, as we've discussed before, the Sun has been unusually quiet of late. Sunspots generally go through an 11-year cycle, and we're a couple years late for the next rise in activity.

But, you are no doubt wondering, what does this mean to me, the Average Joe? (Assuming your name is indeed "Average Joe," which would be pretty remarkable and, ironically, not average.) Well, sunspots seem to be tied to weather. Three times, since astronomers began observing suspots, has the Sun fallen silent, and each time coincides with significant drops in global temperatures. One such dip, from roughly 1600 to 1750, was so severe it is known as "The Little Ice Age."

Are we heading into another glacial period? Much too soon to tell. But if you start feeling chilly, keep your eye on the Sun. Astronomers will be doing the same.

(NOTE FOR THE METAPHORCALLY-IMPAIRED: That was meant figuratively. Do not look directly at the Sun with your naked eye. You'll burn out your retina.)


11 yearsun spot cycle: source; global warming art via wikipedia
11 yearsun spot cycle: source; global warming art via wikipedia

Look out for sunspot 930.

If you study the graph of sunpot activity you will note they spike every 11 years.(learn more in this previous post) The last real bad one was July 14, 2000. It was rated about X6. The next peak will be around 2011. Even though 2006 is supposed to be the low point between peaks, we just got clobbered by an X9 burst of x-rays. I think it knocked out one of the sun monitoring satellites.

NOTE: The Solar X-ray Imager onboard NOAA's GOES-13 satellite is experiencing an anomaly possibly related to the X9-flare of Dec. 5th. NOAA and NASA staff are investigating. Meanwhile, coronal hole updates are suspended.

You can see a live update on proton radiation intensity here. The Dec 5 blast was not pointed toward Earth but the sunspot is swinging our way and the forcast for another X-class blast of x-rays is 50% for the next 48 hours.

Look for more news at

Update: Here is a photo of the Dec 5 X9 class solar flare.

Fairwell sunspot 930: Credit: SOHO/MDI
Fairwell sunspot 930: Credit: SOHO/MDI

Farewell Sunspot 930 (Dec 17)

GOODBYE... and thanks for the X-flares. Sunspot 930 announced itself on Dec. 5th with one of the strongest flares in years--an X9, followed by an X6 on Dec. 6th, an X3 on Dec. 13th and an X1 on Dec. 14th. Not bad for solar minimum!

Want to see these flares in motion?

Dec. 5, 2006 X9 flare
Dec. 7, 2006 X6.5 flare
Dec 13, 2006 X3.4 flare
Dec. 14, 2006 X1 flare
Sept. 5, 2005 X17 flare Lucky this one wasn't pointed our way.

Sunspot 930 visible for about 12 days.

This leads me to believe the sun rotates on its axis about every 25 days. Since we are also going around the sun, exact figuring gets complicated, Read more about solar rotation here.


Sunspot numbers by year: Photo source GlobalWarmingArt
Sunspot numbers by year: Photo source GlobalWarmingArt

Magnetic reversal in sunspot 905 signals new sunspot cycle.

Sunspots go through an eleven year cycle. When one solar cycle gives way to another--sunspots reverse polarity. For the second time in a month, a backward sunspot has appeared. The first backward spot, sighted on July 31st, was tiny and fleeting. The latest, however, is big and sturdy, bipolar sunspot 905.

The onset of Solar Cycle 24 is big news, because the cycle is expected to be intense, but don't expect any big storms right away. Solar cycles take years to ramp up to full power. The next Solar Max is expected in 2010.SpaceWeather

Most intense solar maximum in fifty years is forcast.

The prediction comes from a team led by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

"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. During the intense solarspot activity of 1958 people knew something big was happening. 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.
Solar physicist David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) explains that a convection current "conveyor belt" cycles magnetic knots from the core of the sun up to the surface, then back toward the core again. The cycle varys from 30 to 50 years. If it is flowing fast we will get more sunspots appearing. [email protected]


Aurora watch: Photo by Craig M. Groshek, via Wikipedia
Aurora watch: Photo by Craig M. Groshek, via Wikipedia

Here it comes

Sunspot 904 erupted yesterday, Aug.16. A lot of astronomers were watching as it happened. See pictures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Aurora watch alert

A coronal mass ejection (CME, movie) is heading toward Earth and could spark a geomagnetic storm when it arrives on August 18th or 19th. The cloud was hurled into space yesterday by a C3-class explosion in the magnetic field of sunspot 904. Sky watchers, prepare for auroras.

Watch for Northern Lights Friday and Saturday night.
Source; SpaceWeather