Thursday, October 07, 2010

No more sunspots after 2016?

I have just updated the smoothed sunspot number data file for VOAProp with the latest predicted values up to the year 2020. It's one of those jobs I still do even though I long ago lost interest in the program, having come to the conclusion that the most interesting thing about HF radio propagation is its unpredictability.

Although NOAA updates its sunspot number predictions every month, I only update the data file every few months as the changes are too insignificant to make any difference to the VOAProp output. Since the last time I updated the file NOAA scientists seem to think that the maximum of the next cycle will occur a little later and be a tad higher than previously predicted, with a maximum SSN of 84.6 in the middle of 2013. They also don't expect the next minimum at the end of 2019 to be as low as the last one.

This view is not shared by solar astronomers Matthew Penn and William Livingston of the National Solar Observatory in Arizona. They have been studying the magnetic strength of sunspots since 1990 and have observed that in that time it has fallen by nearly a third. If the trend continues, the astronomers believe, then by 2016 it will have fallen to the level below which the formation of sunspots is believed to be impossible. Though this prediction seems far fetched, it becomes a little more believable when writing about it on a day when there are once again no sunspots.

A period with almost no sunspots has occurred before, and not so long ago either, between 1645 and 1715, known as the Maunder Minimum. This period was also known as the Little Ice Age due to the fact that lower than average temperatures occurred in Europe. Time to sell our radios and invest in heating appliances, perhaps?

If nothing else, this example should show us that healthy scepticism, not credulity, is the sensible response to any scientific prediction. If you don't care for what one bunch of boffins say, don't worry, another bunch will be along in a few months claiming to prove just the opposite. It's about time the global warming alarmists woke up to this.
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