Solar Cycle 24: Solar Maximum

Posted July 25, 2013 by User 1


Solar cycle 24 is believed to be approaching solar maximum at the present time. This cycle is predicted to be the weakest in 100 years and is predicted by some researchers to mark the end of the Modern Maximum period in solar activity that dominated the 20th century.

This weak solar maximum, at just half the strength of the previous one, followed the deepest solar minimum in over a century. During the solar minimum of 2008-2009, the Sun would go weeks or even months at a time without a single sunspot visible. Spaceweather.com recorded a total of 821 days where the Sun was blank during this solar minimum which also lasted much longer than expected. In fact, as late as 2006, solar minimum was forecast to be in December of 2007 -- a full year early.

Wikipedia has an interesting animation of the progression of the predictions from the Space Weather Prediction Center at NOAA for both the solar minimum and the rest of Solar Cycle 24:

The changing forecast for Solar Cycle 24. Credits: SWPC

Indeed, even as late as December of 2006, scientists were still discussing the possibility of the cycle being "one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years." Seven years later, that scenario is clearly not the case.

Today, scientists are discussing the possibility of this cycle being double-peaked after a decline in activity during the originally anticipated peak. If this theory holds, then we are presently in a lull in solar activity between the two peaks, the first having taken place in 2011. A doubled-peak solar cycle, though, is nothing unusual. In fact, the last two cycles both showed a split peak, so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume the current cycle is as well. Of course, given what we've learned from this solar cycle, the only thing predictable about the Sun is that it's largely unpredictable, so anything could still happen. After all, the Carrington Flare, the strongest solar flare in recorded history, did occur during a time of minimal solar activity.


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