The Sun Is Being Weird. It Could Be Because We’re Looking at It All Wrong

Posted: June 19, 2022 by oldbrew in Astrophysics, Cycles, Electro-magnetism, predictions, research
Tags: ,

Solar flare erupting from a sunspot [image credit:]

Who knew!? – asks ScienceAlert. The article links to an interesting new paper on solar cycles, which makes some predictions for the current SC 25 (see section 3.2: Forecasting Using the Solar Unit Cycle). One of those is that it should end in October 2031 ± 9 months, and the authors go on to suggest forthcoming NASA and ESA missions make it probable that ‘Cycle 25 will be the last solar activity cycle that is not fully understood.’
– – –
Something weird is going on with the Sun.

So far, almost every day in 2022 it has erupted in flares and coronal mass ejections, some of which were the most powerful eruptions our star is capable of.

By itself, an erupting Sun is not weird. It erupts regularly as it goes through periods of high and low activity, in cycles that last roughly 11 years.

The current activity is significantly higher than the official NASA and NOAA predictions for the current solar cycle, and solar activity has consistently exceeded predictions as far back as September 2020.

But a solar scientist will tell you that even this isn’t all that weird.

“We can’t reliably predict solar cycles,” solar astrophysicist Michael Wheatland of the University of Sydney, Australia told ScienceAlert.

“We don’t completely understand the solar dynamo, which generates the magnetic fields seen at the surface as sunspots, and which produce flares. This is one of the outstanding problems in astrophysics; the inaccuracy in the prediction is unsurprising.”

Unsurprising, sure. But what if that very lack of surprise – that we expect to be bad at predicting solar cycles – means we need to completely rethink how we do it? What if we’re basing our predictions on the wrong metric?

From 11 to 22 years

Solar cycles have a huge impact on the Solar System but are relatively poorly understood. Scientists have ascertained that they seem inextricably linked with the solar magnetic field, which arcs across the surface of our Sun in twists, swirls, and loops.

Roughly every 11 years, the Sun’s magnetic poles flip, north becoming south and vice versa. This switch coincides with what is known as solar maximum, characterized by a peak of sunspot, flare, and coronal mass ejection (CME) activity.

Following this reversal, activity lessens, before ramping up towards a peak once more. This is where we are now – the escalation phase of the current cycle, the 25th since we started counting.

Activity cycles are characterized and predicted based on one metric: the number of sunspots seen on the Sun. These are temporary regions where magnetic fields are particularly strong, facilitating the eruption of flares and CMEs. They appear as dark spots because the magnetic field inhibits the flow of hot plasma, and the regions are subsequently cooler and dimmer than their surroundings.

According to solar physicist Scott McIntosh of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, predicting solar cycles based on how many sunspots we count is a problem.

“The sunspot cycle is not the primary thing. It’s a secondary thing,” he told ScienceAlert. “And the way the canon is written, the way the textbooks are written, the way solar activity is presented, it’s portrayed as the primary.

“The problem is that it’s really not, and the underlying Hale cycle, the 22-year magnetic cycle, is the primary. And the sunspot cycle is just a tiny subset of this bigger picture.”

Continued here.

  1. Gamecock says:

    ‘The current activity is significantly higher than the official NASA and NOAA predictions for the current solar cycle’

    They also make equally useful hurricane forecasts.

  2. oldbrew says:

    From the ScienceAlert article:

    McIntosh believes there’s something to the fact his team’s prediction is closer to how solar cycle 25 has been playing out. At the very least, the team’s ideas deserve a closer look and some serious investigation.

    “We’ve been pretty much spot on for about 10 years, but it’s not diffusing through the scientific community,” he said.

    “This solar cycle provided an opportunity. Because our prediction was so diametrically opposite to what the consensus panel was showing, that means that if we end up being close, then we really need to take a second look at how stars make magnetic fields.

    “Maybe it’s closer to the way that we’re seeing that’s happening, versus the old way. And it could be a hybrid, some mix of the two. It probably is.”
    – – –
    Give it another 2-3 years perhaps to get a clearer picture of SC 25 progress.

  3. Philip Mulholland says:

    and the underlying Hale cycle, the 22-year magnetic cycle, is the primary

    I have been trying to point this out for some time now. It’s basic signal processing.
    The sunspot cycle count is always shown as positive numbers.
    However, if you count ever even number sunspot cycles as positive number spots and the following odd number cycles as negative number spots then the time series plot of spot counts captures the missing Hale cycle information.

  4. Paul Vaughan says:

    2021 Figure 4 CLT

    ’11aNADO11′ hansen a tie$ ‘sir rey’ $high
    $DO11mann would you˚Know $sc!11un$folksh!UN?

    It is a profound mistake to conflate the two.”

    mess age borrisunherd$sentrulimIThe0rem
    SSTa11 tune borg CO[$] “feelin’elect trick‘tune knight
    Cruisin’D-own the CO[$]SST go ww in bout 99″ 11aNADO11raise

    again: don˚T take D-bait trick in-us in22behiveyear delawwarycanCR USh!..

    sew few can tell

  5. Stephen Richards says:

    I look at the spaceweather site every day. I’ve not seen any flares greater than an M- medium. Maybe I simply missed the big flares

  6. Paul Vaughan says:

    _______berg-tune NO. SSTa11 J

  7. oldbrew says:

    Stephen R – this site lists some recent X-flares (see ‘related articles’ list) …
    – – –
    Last minute or so of video talks about predictions…

  8. stpaulchuck says:

    I love this sort of article. The more we find out it turns out the less we know *grin*.

  9. oldbrew says:

    ‘As at Jun 20 2022, solar cycle 25 is averaging 29% more spots per day than solar cycle 24 at the same point in the cycle (Jun 20 2011).’

  10. oldbrew says:

    Met Office alarmed by ‘eleventh lowest on record’ Arctic sea ice since 1979 🥱

    Arctic sea ice extent on 10 June in the northern hemisphere summer was the eleventh lowest on record for the time of year, following relatively slow ice loss during May. Consistent records of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice began in 1979 during the development of the satellite era.

  11. Justin Flynn says:

    These guys nailed it with the terminator events. I find it disappointing they mention “it might be gravity waves” since I’ve pestering Scott on Twitter for ages that the primary causation for, well, most things we see in our physical system is driven by low frequency gravitational waves. He never acknowledged it beyond a hand waving “like”. You know the deal, Roger. I want you to know you inspired me to go down the rabbit hole. I appreciate it. It’s a beautiful but lonely place. Look through my latest work, if you like. The 3 PDFs in the more recent posts, concretely. You will understand, as few will. I wish I had time to publish more, but it’s a start: Thanks.

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