Watched solar CME’s never boil?

I covered the recent uptick in solar activity earlier this month here and here last month. Now NASA offers this summary of the events, saying Cycle 24 is finally “on”. AT the end of this story, I’ve added a video showing the CME from March 7th, it is quite something.

From NASA:

If you’ve ever stood in front of a hot stove, watching a pot of water and waiting impatiently for it to boil, you know what it feels like to be a solar physicist.

Back in 2008, the solar cycle plunged into the deepest minimum in nearly a century. Sunspots all but vanished, solar flares subsided, and the sun was eerily quiet.

“Ever since, we’ve been waiting for solar activity to pick up,” says Richard Fisher, head of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. “It’s been three long years.”

News flash: The pot is starting to boil. “Finally,” says Fisher, “we are beginning to see some action.”

As 2011 unfolds, sunspots have returned and they are crackling with activity. On February 15th and again on March 9th, Earth orbiting satellites detected a pair of “X-class” solar flares–the most powerful kind of x-ray flare. The last such eruption occurred back in December 2006.
Aurora resulting from the March 7 X1.5 flare and CME as viewed from Grand Portage, Minnesota, on March 10, 2011.
› View larger

Aurora resulting from the March 7, 2011 X1.5-class flare and CME as viewed from Grand Portage, Minnesota, on March 10, 2011. Credit: NASA/Travis Novitsky

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded this X1.5-class solar flare on March 9, 2011.
› View movie of flare event

Screen capture from movie of X1.5-class flare captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on March 9, 2011. Credit: NASA/SDO Quiet spells on the sun are nothing new. They come along every 11 years or so—it’s a natural part of the solar cycle. This particular solar minimum, however, was lasting longer than usual, prompting some researchers to wonder if it would ever end.

Another eruption on March 7th hurled a billion-ton cloud of plasma away from the sun at five million mph (2200 km/s). The rapidly expanding cloud wasn’t aimed directly at Earth, but it did deliver a glancing blow to our planet’s magnetic field. The off-center impact on March 10th was enough to send Northern Lights spilling over the Canadian border into US states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

“That was the fastest coronal mass ejection in almost six years,” says Angelos Vourlidas of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “It reminds me of a similar series of events back in Nov. 1997 that kicked off Solar Cycle 23, the solar cycle before this one.”

“To me,” says Vourlidas, “this marks the beginning of Solar Cycle 24.”

The slow build-up to this moment is more than just “the watched pot failing to boil,” says Ron Turner, a space weather analyst at Analytic Services, Inc. “It really has been historically slow.”

There have been 24 numbered solar cycles since researchers started keeping track of them in the mid-18th century. In an article just accepted for publication by the Space Weather Journal, Turner shows that, in all that time, only four cycles have started more slowly than this one. “Three of them were in the Dalton Minimum, a period of depressed solar activity in the early 19th century. The fourth was Cycle #1 itself, around 1755, also a relatively low solar cycle,” he says.

In his study, Turner used sunspots as the key metric of solar activity. Folding in the recent spate of sunspots does not substantially alter his conclusion: “Solar Cycle 24 is a slow starter,” he says.

Better late than never.

After years of lying low, sunspot counts are on the rise again.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA/SWPC) Sunspot Number Progression chart for January 2000 through March 2011. Credit: NOAA/SWPC

Watch this video

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28 Responses to Watched solar CME’s never boil?

  1. Ben Hillicoss says:

    “”To me,” says Vourlidas, “this marks the beginning of Solar Cycle 24.”””

    Doesn’t he mean nearing the peak??

  2. mikelorrey says:

    What will they say when it quiets down again?

  3. Jim Cripwell says:

    Go to the Solar Reference Page on WUWT. Scroll down to the plots by Livingston and Penn. During SC 23, the magnetic field strength of sunspots was somewhere around 2800 gauss. Now it is around 2000 gauss. Surely that is going to make a difference to how much effect SC24 sunspots have.

  4. Jim Cook says:

    I may not know anything about solar cycles, but I can look at the chart and see that any massive up/downtick is followed immediately with it crashing back in the other direction.

  5. stephen richards says:

    What I do find very strange about this cycle’s activity thus far is that the vast majority of the activity has been in the northern hemisphere. Leif ?

  6. Robert of Ottawa says:

    OK Child’s question: Why are sunspots black?

  7. Philip Peake says:

    @Robert: You are not allowed to ask that, racist!

    :-)

    However, to answer your question anyway, they are not black, they are just at a lower temperature than the normal outer layer of the Sun, and thus appear darker (even black) simply because of the difference in luminosity. If you could look at a sunspot in isolation, it would appear very bright.

  8. stephen richards says:
    April 15, 2011 at 1:51 pm
    What I do find very strange about this cycle’s activity thus far is that the vast majority of the activity has been in the northern hemisphere. Leif ?
    It is quite normal that there is such a difference [sometimes it is the Southern that is most active. SIDC has a graph of the asymmetry: http://sidc.oma.be/html/wnosuf.html

    Robert of Ottawa says:
    April 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm
    OK Child’s question: Why are sunspots black?
    They are not. They shine brigther that a welder’s arc. It is only by contrast to the even brighter surroundings that the spot looks dark. If you imagine the smallest sunspot we can see, and imagine that we remove the rest of the sun from the sky and only let that tiniest spot hang the, it would shine brighter than the full moon. Pretty cool for a black spot :-)
    A related question: why the difference in brightness between the spot and the surrounding surface? Answer: the spot is about 1000 degrees cooler than the surroundings. Why is that? The going explanation is that the magnetic field interferes with the transfer of heat from the solar interior, diverting some of it around the spot.

  9. As Ben Hillicoss says on April 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm :

    “Doesn’t he mean nearing the peak??”

    I think he probably does but he may not be able to confirm this until 2013 – 2014, or thereabouts when a slow start to cycle 25 may be nothing but what has been expected.
    In any case I like this kind of science as this is the one that nobody (even those who know the very most) knows very much about. Which means there is a steady stream of ‘new things’ emerging on a daily basis. – Maybe the Sun’s southern hemisphere will wake up soon too – There again, – maybe not! Will the spots get closer to the equator or will they vanish again? Who can tell?
    I do not know if I am correct but off hand I think this is about the third time the start of Solar Cycle 24 has been announced by some solar physicist or other.

  10. Gary Pearse says:

    Probably nearly all the commenters here are unamazed that we are chatting about sunspots, sealevel changes, CMEs, TCEs, varieties of decadal oscillations, IR radiation and its absorption by CO2 and energy transfer to other atmos gases, Younger Dryas, LIA, MWP, plankton making their own clouds, oxygen and Be isotopes vs temp….. And world class experts join in and educate us and straighten us out, or even argue with us. I guess you have to have left school with a slide rule to conquer the world to feel this way.

  11. gman says:

    Gary Pearse BINGO!!!!

  12. aaron says:

    Were there any recent CME?

    WUWT posted on CME happening just when the Japan earthquake happened.

  13. Lemon says:

    @Gary Pearse good one there!

    I agree with Mr. Vourlidas, that the cycle is starting now. Cause, you know, the activity cycle begins when the activity begins, not when 11-years mark is reached. ;)
    Also, in cycle 23, some of the most impressive and strongest events occurred in 2003, i.e., in the decay of activity: 2003-Oct-28 (X17.2) and 2003-Nov-04 (GOES saturated), for example. We can have interesting events at any point of the maximum.
    Can’t wait for the pretty data! :)

  14. Ed Mertin says:

    Looks like it could still settle in like an elongated SC20, as I said all along.

  15. Ralph says:

    Are Nasa videos made by the same team that makes Teletubbies?

    .

  16. John Silver says:

    So far that uptick is just a spurious. Need more uppies!

  17. c. j. acworth says:

    Having just survived another long, cold New Hampshire winter I have to ask, does this mean that the Global Warming is going to start up again, and maybe we’ll get a break next winter? Seriously, I’ve been beating the heck out of my pickup the last couple of years plowing the road I live on!

  18. Cromagnum says:

    Are these higher numbers based on the same standards of measurement, or have those standards changed because of additional observation technology?

  19. Cromagnum says:
    April 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm
    Are these higher numbers based on the same standards of measurement, or have those standards changed because of additional observation technology?
    For the sunspot number, the observers take great care to avoid this. For example, small telescopes of the same size as originally used by Rudolf Wolf are used today. In fact, the very same telescope used by Wolf is still used to check that the sunspot numbers are calibrated the same way as the early numbers: http://www.leif.org/research/Wolf-80mm.jpg
    For the radio flux, that is an absolute measurement in Watt [per unit area and bandwidth] so as long as a Watt does not change its definition, the flux is correct.

  20. Des says:

    Most definitely not a scientist here, so a layman’s question….doesn’t a lack of sunspot activity equate to lower general temperatures? I’m not a global warming believer (at least about man’s contribution via CO2), but if temps have been up (or at least close to their recent highs) despite lack of solar activity, doesn’t that mean we’ll see an increase if a new cycle gets going? Isn’t the bottom line that yearly averages are meaningless unless you combine them with as many external factors (like solar activity) as possible so you can get an idea of how high they “should” be?

    Or am I missing something obvious?

  21. Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm
    For the sunspot number, the observers take great care to avoid this.
    In spite of the care, inhomogeneities do creep in when observers change. Luckily, these ‘jumps’ can be identified and corrected for. In addition, the ultraviolet radiation from active regions [where the sunspots live] cause a current in the ionosphere. We can detect the magnetic effect from that on the the ground and have measured this for centuries, so have a long-term check on the stability of the sunspot series: http://www.leif.org/research/Rudolf%20Wolf%20Was%20Right.pdf

  22. manuel says:

    Leif, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise here. Having a true expert wanting to share his expertise is exceptional, and answering novice questions must be trying many times. You must be a magnificent docent. Thank you very much!

  23. aeroguy48 says:

    If you listen closely at the moderator, you can hear him laughing at his commentary, I do violently abhor the esteemed Anthony Watts misinterpreting the esteemed NASA in their Chart that clearly shows the mark ‘we are here’ , Anthony Watts disparges our trusty NASA and shows it as ‘you are here’. Have you no shame Anthony on such deception?

    /sarc?

  24. phlogiston says:

    Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    …The going explanation is that the magnetic field interferes with the transfer of heat from the solar interior, diverting some of it around the spot.

    Direct interaction of magnetism and heat sounds like a pathway towards a new unified physics. Can you explain a little more clearly how magnetic fields can influence heat transfer in the sun?

  25. phlogiston says:
    April 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm
    Direct interaction of magnetism and heat sounds like a pathway towards a new unified physics. Can you explain a little more clearly how magnetic fields can influence heat transfer in the sun?
    There are several mechanisms that enable that. In the outer ~25% of the Sun, energy is transported outwards by convection [a boiling pot]. A magnetic field constrains the plasma movements [plasma is stuck on the field lines and have a harder time to move sideways to complete the convection cell]. A subtler mechanism is that a magnetic field exerts a pressure of its own and so less material is needed to maintain pressure balance, so a sunspot has a lower density that outside it, hence there is less material to carry the convection. There are also various forms for wave interaction between field and plasma. Once you go down to the details, it becomes very complicated, but no new physics is required to explain the less efficient upwards energy transfer.

  26. Spector says:

    In my microwave oven, the truism seems to be: “An unwatched pot boils over”…

    For what it may be worth, my calculations appear to show that sunspot cycles 22, 23, and 24 all began about 152 years after cycles 8, 9, and 10. Earlier 14-cycle pairs appear to be typically 155 or more years apart. I am using my own automatically generated dates for the start of each cycle based on moving smoothed minimum values.

  27. Spector says:
    April 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm
    I am using my own automatically generated dates for the start of each cycle based on moving smoothed minimum values.
    The trouble is that the Sun does not know about your calculations…

  28. phlogiston says:

    Leif Svalgaard says:
    April 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm
    phlogiston says:
    April 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for your helpful and informative reply.

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