Something is Happening On the Sun

Russ Steele

Leif Svalgaard a well known solar scientist is giving a presentation in Oslo on Monday titled Solar Activity Past Present and Future. The whole presentation is rather detailed and at times complex, but I found slide 34 very interesting, as Leif mentions the potential for a Maunder like Grand Minimum in the Sun’s future. Slide 34 is below, with his comentary below the graphic.

And something is happening with the Sun. The F10.7 flux has from the beginning of the data [in 1947] had a firm and consistent relationship with the sunspot number, so that one could use one as a proxy for the other [we used that in Slide 22]. Using that relationship we can calculate what sunspot number to expect for a given F10.7 flux and compare it with observations. The ratio between the observed and the synthetic sunspot numbers should scatter a bit around unity, as it does nicely up to about 1990. From then on, the observed SSN falls progressively below the expected values. This using both the SIDC and the SWPC [NOAA] numbers [upper left panel].

Mount Wilson Observatory calculates for each day the fraction [called the Magnetic Plage Strength Index, MPSI] of the solar disk covered with magnetic fields outside of spots [so called ‘plages’]. That fraction has a strong solar cycle variation; on average the SSN is a function MPSI: SSN = 55 MPSI. As for F10.7, we can calculate the expected SSN for a given MPSI and form the ratio between the observed and the calculated numbers [lower panel, left].

That fraction has been falling significantly during the same time when the SSN and F10.7 deviated from each other.Ever since Wolf, there has been on average about 10 spots per sunspot group. This is the reason for the 10 appearing in the sunspot number formula SSN = 10*Groups + Spots. Over the past couple of cycles the number of spots per group has dropped by about a third, so groups are losing the smaller spots.

Livingston & Penn have observed the magnetic field at the darkest point in every sunspot [within their observing time window] and find that the average field has decreased by 20% over the same time as the other effects we have been describing. The ‘bottom’ of the distribution seems to be cut off at 1500 Gauss, below which sunspots do not seem to form.

All of these effects are unprecedented in the observational data and tells us that the Sun is changing in ways not seen before. Or have we seen this before? During the Maunder Minimum cosmic rays were still modulated, the spicule ‘forest’ in the chromosphere was still observed, so there were healthy magnetic fields, yet few spots were visible. Perhaps they just didn’t form as they used to, being an extreme example of the trends we are seen now…

The full presentation can be found HERE.

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About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
This entry was posted in Cosmic Rays, Maunder, Solar. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Something is Happening On the Sun

  1. Sean says:

    Leif Svalgaard’s thinking has clearly evolved on this issue. He has gone from thinking this was a likely a Dalton type minimum to where he believes the current observed Livingstone & Penn effect on sunspot magnetism was responsible for the Maunder but not the Dalton. An interesting time for Solar physics.

  2. Sean,

    I agree we have some interesting observing time ahead of us.

  3. Sean says:

    Russ, back in July there was a posting on changes in the sun and I posted this question yo Leif S.,
    “A few months back on the SolarHam.net message board, a commenter asked Dr. Svalgaard if the weakening magnetic fields measured by Livingston and Penn is what caused the Dalton minimum. Leif’s answer was most interesting. He saw the Dalton min. as part of the natural 100 year ebb and flow of weak and strong cycles. He then went on to say that the Maunder minumum was a manifestation of what L&P are observing now. This is the strongest suggestion I’ve seen from Leif that we may be headed into more than just a Dalton like minimum. Previously, Dr Svalgaard has said the probability we are headed for a Dalton type minumum is high but we only had a low probability for a Maunder type episode. If Dr. Svalgaard reads this note I’d like to ask him three questions. First, has the probability between Dalton vs. Maunder type events changed in his opinion for the next few decades, second, what type of evidence does he have beyond the L&P effect to support that probability and third, will there any any peer reviewed publications in the near future to discuss where the sun might be headed?
    Here is Dr. Svagaard’s reply
    “three questions. First, has the probability between Dalton vs. Maunder type events changed in his opinion for the next few decades, second, what type of evidence does he have beyond the L&P effect to support that probability and third, will there any any peer reviewed publications in the near future to discuss where the sun might be headed?
    As the low solar activity predicted by us has come to pass, a small cottage industry [with several ‘peer reviewed’ papers – for what they are worth] has sprung up about a possible coming Maunder minimum. There is little doubt that at some time in the future a new Grand minimum will be coming our way. Whether it will happen real soon is anybody’s guess. At a recent international workshop that I convened this question was central. You can find most of the discussion chronicled in the presentations here: http://ssnworkshop.wikia.com/wiki/1st_ISSI_Workshop
    The contribution by Lockwood has more references.”
    So while not a difinitive reply he is clearly more open to the possibility of Grand minimum.

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