Hey y’all. It’s the hottest part of summer and smack dab in the middle of another Solar Maximum (five years in, to be exact). Best you be bustin’ out the popsicles and the coconut sun tan lotion now before your chance is gone. I say that because this solar maximum isn’t all that maxed-out. As a matter of fact, it’s really puny when you compare it with other Solar Maximums in the past.
The cycle is fairly simple. Every eleven years, we start off with low solar activity, which gradually builds up so that by midpoint, roughly around the fifth or sixth year, we see high solar activity, which then tapers off and the cycle ends with another span of low activity. The highs and lows vary cycle by cycle, but they always come.
The cycle we are currently living through is Cycle 24, not because there has ever only been twenty-four cycles but because modern astronomers have only been monitoring sun cycles since 1755, and we had to start the count somewhere. Prior to that, ancient astronomers had been monitoring celestial movements using state-of-the-art stone tools, but what they know and how they figured it out is another post for another day. This post is only concerned with this most recent cycle.
How is a cycle determined? Does some big wig announcer on national television decides one day that it would be a good time to announce to the world that a new Solar Maximum has started? Fortunately, this is not the case. It begins with a simple reversed-polarity sunspot. It may be only a fraction of a second in length, but that is all that it takes. Back on January 4, 2008, a reversed-polarity sunspot was observed by scientists, which heralded in the start of a new cycle, Solar Cycle 24. I remember reading about it at the time and was intensely curious as to what (if any) untoward happenings would occur. Well, other than the huge financial crash of 2008, not much else has happened since then, even despite the comings and goings of December 21, 2012.
To get back to the matter, there is still time for something to occur, if anything is going to occur. We are only five years into this cycle, and by rights. there should be some activity. As I noted in my previous posts (There’s a Black Spot on the Sun Today, and She Blows Hot and Cold), there is plenty of action—just not as many as there should be, and certainly not as BIG.
How much activity and how big should there be? To get averages, we have to go back to previous cycles and compare/contrast the differences. Here’s what past cycles show:
Compared to cycles 21, 22, and 23, this one is a midget. It is seriously under-performing when compared with its past siblings. But that’s not a fair assessment because it may just be that the Sun happened to have gone through three periods of fairly strong Solar Maximums. We need to take a look at Cycle 24 in comparison with the weaker cycles to get an idea of where on the puny scale it lands.
To risk sounding like I am comparing penises, here is the comparison chart for the small guys of the Solar Maximum world. (Note that the biggest peak of this graph below does not even reach 100 whereas the chart above has peaks that go past 160.)
So now we have a more even playing field. Of all the short guys, our very own Cycle 24 barely holds his own alongside Cycle 12 and Cycle 14. In fact, scientists are hoping that we will have some sort of a revival and bump up at the last minute, just like Cycles 16 and 12 did. But so far, no cigar, as this cycle rolls towards its inevitable demise. Five more years and it’s back down to a Solar Minimum again, which means minimal sunspots and minimal magnetic influences that will hit Earth.
So how does this Solar Cycle 24 affect Earth (and us)? That’s a question that even the angels barely dare to tread on.