Welcome to Solar Cycle 24!

Spaceweather.com sent an email notice into my mailbox today with information about the start of Solar Cycle 24. Scientists who monitor the surface of the sun have seen what looks to be the first sunspot in what they expect will be a gradual ramp-up of sunspot activity over the next few years. Click here for an image of the first sunspot of Solar Cycle 24. Daily monitoring of sunspot activity goes back to 1749 with more sketchy record keeping dating back to 1645. Click here for a link to: the chart of sunspot cycles from 1645 to 2000. There is a well documented 11 year average cycle from sunspot peak to valley and back to peak. The last peak of sunspot activity occurred in May of 2000 with a secondary peak in early 2002. We hit a sunspot minimum in 2007 and solar physicists have been looking for the first signs of the new cycle to begin. Records show the change from minimum activity to increasing activity starts with the arrival of a “magnetically reversed high-latitude” sunspot, which is what showed up today. Using the 11 year average cycle, we would expect increasing sunspot activity until we hit a peak about 5 1/2 years after the minimum in 2007 or 11 years after the last peak in 2000, putting our next peak of sunspot activity somewhere around between the middle of 2011 and the middle of 2013. This new active sun will mean more geomagnetic storms headed toward Earth in the coming years with the possibility of more frequent displays of the Northern and Southern Lights and interruptions to radio transmissions and power grids. Will the increased number of sunspots have an impact on our weather? No one knows for sure. Some researchers believe sunspots play a role in the weather we observe at the surface of the Earth, others aren’t convinced. More study will be required and hopefully Solar Cycle 24 will provide the opportunity for adding to our knowledge of how the Sun drives our climate. For a nice article on how sunspots impact the Earth, check this link to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, SD: The Sun and Sunspots

Tom Tasselmyer

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