Where have all the sunspots gone?


I’m writing this after doing an exhaustive search to see what sort of solar activity has occurred lately, and I find there is little to report. With the exception of the briefly increased solar wind from a coronal hole, there is almost no significant solar activity.

The sun has gone quiet. Really quiet.

It is normal for our sun to have quiet periods between solar cycles, but we’ve seen months and months of next to nothing, and the start of Solar cycle 24 seems to have materialized (as first reported here) then abruptly disappeared. The reverse polarity sunspot that signaled the start of cycle 24 on January 4th, dissolved within two days after that.


Of course we’ve known that the sunspot cycle has gone low, which is also to be expected for this period of the cycle. Note that NOAA still has two undecided scenarios for cycle 24 Lower that normal, or higher than normal, as indicated on the graph below:


But the real news is just how quiet the suns magnetic field has been in the past couple of years. From the data provided by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) you can see just how little magnetic field activity there has been. I’ve graphed it below:

solar-geomagnetic-Ap Index

click for a larger image

What is most interesting about the Geomagnetic Average Planetary Index graph above is what happened around October 2005. Notice the sharp drop in the magnetic index and the continuance at low levels.

This looks much like a “step function” that I see on GISS surface temperature graphs when a station has been relocated to a cooler measurement environment. In the case of the sun, it appears this indicates that something abruptly “switched off” in the inner workings of the solar dynamo. Note that in the prior months, the magnetic index was ramping up a bit with more activity, then it simply dropped and stayed mostly flat.

We saw a single reversed polarity high latitude sunspot on January 4th, 2008, which would signal the start of a new cycle 24, which was originally predicted to have started last March and expected to peak in 2012. So far the sun doesn’t seem to have restarted its normal upwards climb.

If you have ever studied how the magnetic dynamo of the sun is so incredibly full of entropy, yet has cycles, you’ll understand how it can change states. The sun’s magnetic field is a like a series of twisted and looped rubber bands, mostly because the sun is a fluid gas, which rotates at different rates between the poles and the equator. Since the suns magnetic field is pulled along with the gas, all these twists, bumps, and burps occur in the process as the magnetic field lines get twisted like taffy. You can see more about it in the Babcock model.

I’ve alway’s likened a sunspot to what happens with a rubber band on a toy balsa wood plane. You keep twisting the propeller beyond the normal tightness to get that extra second of thrust and you see the rubber band start to pop out knots. Those knots are like sunspots bursting out of twisted magnetic field lines.

The Babcock model says that the differential rotation of the Sun winds up the magnetic fields of it’s layers during a solar cycle. The magnetic fields will then eventually tangle up to such a degree that they will eventually cause a magnetic break down and the fields will have to struggle to reorganize themselves by bursting up from the surface layers of the Sun. This will cause magnetic North-South pair boundaries (spots) in the photosphere trapping gaseous material that will cool slightly. Thus, when we see sunspots, we are seeing these areas of magnetic field breakdown.


Sunspots are cross connected eruptions of the magnetic field lines, shown in red above. Sometimes they break, spewing tremendous amounts of gas and particles into space. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME’s) are some examples of this process. Sometimes they snap back like rubber bands. The number of sunspots at solar max is a direct indicator of the activity level of the solar dynamo.

Given the current quietness of the sun and it’s magnetic field, combined with the late start to cycle 24 with even possibly a false start, it appears that the sun has slowed it’s internal dynamo to a similar level such as was seen during the Dalton Minimum. One of the things about the Dalton Minimum was that it started with a skipped solar cycle, which also coincided with a very long solar cycle 4 from 1784-1799. The longer our current cycle 23 lasts before we see a true ramp up of cycle 24, the greater chance it seems then that cycle 24 will be a low one.

No wonder there is so much talk recently about global cooling. I certainly hope that’s wrong, because a Dalton type solar minimum would be very bad for our world economy and agriculture. NASA GISS published a release back in 2003 that agrees with the commonly accepted idea that long period trends in solar activity do affect our climate by changing the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI).

Some say it is no coincidence that 2008 has seen a drop in global temperature as indicated by several respected temperature indexes compared to 2007, and that our sun is also quiet and still not kick starting its internal magentic dynamo.


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Could all that CO2 that AL and others speak of have such an effect on the sun? WOW.

George M

The first false start to cycle 24 was back in 2006. I do not have the citation at hand, but a ‘reversed’ field spot appeared for a short time back then, predating the Jan. 4 spot by 18 months or so. As you might imagine, the discussion of the sunspot cycles is just as hot (pardon the pun) a topic in Amateur Radio discussions as it is on the GW blogs. Mentions of the Maunder Minimum crop up often, as do occasional mentions of Dalton, and the question of where have our spots gone? dominates the topics.
REPLY: Yes I recall that now, but the consensus was that one was a fluke. But the one on Jan 4th may be a fluke also. My awareness of the situation is helped by the fact that I’m a Amatuer Radio Operator myself. 73’s

Jeff in Seattle

Note that NOAA still has two undecided scenarios for cycle 24 Lower that normal, or higher than normal, as indicated on the graph below:

Wow, that’s decisive isnt it. I could have made that prediction, and I cost a lot less than NOAA.

Hi Anthony, great write up. I am convinced that we are looking at the return of a Dalton Minimum pattern and started blog it over a year ago at The Dalton Minimum Returns. I was unaware of the sudden drop in the GAPI in October 2005, and will investigate some more. It was my interest in amateur radio that sparked my interest in sun spots and their rise and fall indicating a connection to climate change. 73’s KF6TAR
REPLY: Russ’ site is worth a visit, I recommend it.

Randy Washburn

The 2006 occurance was not a Sunspot. Only the magnetograph caught the reverse polarity event. This means that the surface presence of the magnetic disturbance was not strong enough to cause a sunspot. All those who deemed and predicted that cycle 24 would be very active were hoping for this to be the beginning. Regardless the Sun has a mind of its own. Our solar heater shines down on the Earth and laughs at all those who call themselves wise and all those who are ultimately stupid. This means Al Gore, John McCain, Joe Leiberman, Kyoto et. al.
Our political hacks are so caught up with warming that they are going to be the cause of famine, disease and death in the forthcoming Dalton-Maunder-Sporer minimum. If the solar physicists and other intellegent people who look at the Sun as the source and moderator of climate on Earth are correct then we should be preparing for failed crops, no heating oil, little rain, bitterly cold winters and rampant disease from unhealthy people.


Oh my! Can we do anything? Could we use more solar powered cars? Or maybe fewer solar cells? Maybe we could stop burning oil and coal! That’ll spark the sun right up.
Maybe we should start a Solar Trading scheme, were there are a certain number of credits available and people or industries that use more than their fair share can simply buy someone else’s share. Yeah. That’ll change everything.
Maybe we need to start dropping nuclear waste into the sun. Would that help? Or hurt? Maybe we could start dropping AGW alarmists in! Even if that doesn’t spark things up, it would still be a lot of fun 🙂


I forgot where I read it recently, but the statement towards understanding what influences our climate was simply put as, the Earth is within the climate zone of our Sun. I find that quite powerful but amazing how many overlook this.
Also I read back more than a decade ago, that there is a thermal lag affect here on Earth based on solar activity which affects our weather, no different than the temperature lag affect we see when daily high temperature occurs a few hours after the Sun peaks in the sky, or a few weeks each winter and summer after the Sun is closest or fartherst from us in our hemisphere.
Is this correct? If so, should we expect a general cool-down to continue so long as solar activity continues on the trend?
Great reading here – glad I found this the other day.

Gary Gulrud

Great post, Anthony. You are on fire! Like Russ I’d not seen the Geomagnetic Average Planetary Index graph with the step before, fabulous. Another radio aficionado, Jan Alvestad, has a great blog for following the data, dxlc. There will certainly be a lot of blood on the floor at NASA over the AWOL cycle 24.


Excellent entry Anthony. It continues to mystify me how so many people refuse to belive the sun is in charge of our planet’s climate system. I believe they will be proven very wrong in the next decade or so.
It’s been a year since NASA released their predictions on #24. Is there any updated predictions based on how quiet the sun has been up to this point? What is the predicted final length of #23? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not believe there have been any high latitude sunspots associated with #24 since the one small reversed one last month. Yes/no?
I too think we’re looking as a Dalton Minimum scenario. With a negative PDO phase….oh my. Add a major volcanic eruption (which, BTW, we haven’t had one for a while, so we’re due) and, well, I think it may be very very difficult to feed 7 billion people.
As you say, we live in very interesting times….


BTW, the genius of (now deceased) Theodore Landscheidt continues to amaze me. He flat out nailed, decades ago, the decline in solar activity after 1990, a less intense #23, and a steep decline into a Dalton-type minimum activity. Genius…


I found an interesting site about a possible explanation of the solar cycles. A prediction that we are facing a Dalton min is also made with 89 % probablity. True or not, but nonetheless interesting reading.

I live in Western Europe. So far we’ve had a warm winter. We’ve been saved by the warm Golf Stream. But I believe that will not last long very long.
What I understand and believe is that we have to wait 2 more years before we enter Cycle 24. That will make 4 years with low solar activity compared to the normal 1 year of low activity. There is a 3 year lag time before we start to feel the full affect here on Earth.
This should lower the Earth’s temperature by 1.5 Centigrade, by 2015-2020. During the last hundred years it have been risen by 0.6-0.7 Centigrade.
The only good thing about this cold snap is all the pseudo scientists that will get fired.

Jim Arndt

Leif Svalgaard thinks it will start this summer (2008) and have a Rmax of 75. He also states that it could also be what he calls a Grand Minimum, but he just doesn’t know. I think it will start next summer (2009) and have 60 to 65 spots. Here is his link, everything you wanted to know but afraid to ask
His thread on CA


Golf Stream. Is *that* where all my golf balls end up? 🙂


It is hard for me to fathom how the Global Warming Alarmists ignore the obvious. I am far from being well knowledged on the scientific aspects of global temperatures, but it has always been obvious to me that the sun is our primary source of ‘heat’, duh.
What scares me most are the seemingly educated scientists (government funded IPCC types) and supposedly thoughtful politicians who so easily accept the Kyoto Protocol precepts. My take on this is a way to tax and spend on a global basis under any pretext necessary to accomplish this.
This type of reporting when combined with other writings on this subjects are quite educational for the layman, such as myself. It is unfortunate that this type of forum is not broadcast to the general public via the mainstream media. Then those citizens that get their knowledge between Oprah Winfrey and Survivor episodes may start activating areas of their gray matter previously unused.
Thank you for your excellent article. And the excellent comments as well.


Unfortunately Per, the Warmists will merely change tact. They already have been largely successful in changing the lexicon from global warming to climate change. They’ve already been blaming this year’s cold weather extremes on climate change, again due to human CO2.
Besides, when they are called on the decline in temperatures likely to follow, they will not miss a beat in saying that no credible scientists ever said temperatures would continue to rise. There is neither any shame, nor honor, among this crowd. All they want is their political outcomes no matter how they are obtained.

Joe in San Diego

If we believe Svensmark the Sun’s magnetic field has doubled since 1900 so, it’d be really interesting to see the graph on the Sun’s magnetic field strength stretched out to include the full historical data, back to mid-1800’s? If Svensmark is right, the strength and extension of the solar magnetic umbrella is one of the main drivers in warming cycles but, given that the solar flaring activity is decreasing but, the solar magnet field is particularly strong relative to 1900, there may easily be a confluence of multiple factors driving the earth to be slightly out of sync with the historical minimums you’re showing.
It’d give true perspective to the current situation and it wouldn’t be too hard to get and use the rest of the data since they’ve been collected by the British for 150 years and should be available to the public.
I’d hate to think that thoughtful commentary like yours fails to show the full time-series associated with this phenomena, it’s not necessary and like Edward Tufte exhorts, let the evidence speak for itself, something that I feel confident that it will support your viewpoint.


They have already gone on record as saying the cooling in Antarctica not only was predicted, but does not in any way contradict their models.
Seriously: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/02/antarctica-is-cold

I’ve never understood why, when asked what might have an impact on global temperatures, a) evil Western capitalism or b) a gigantic ball of fire hundreds of times larger than our planet itself, people choose “a”. Hasn’t anyone noticed the simple fact that when the sun goes down at night, the temperature drops 30+ degrees immediately? Is that just from all those mean CO2 plants shutting down for the evening?

[…] II: Beside supporting the theory of the Nobel Peace Prize curse, this is actually something to be concerned about. No wonder there is so much talk recently about global cooling. I certainly hope that’s wrong, […]


Keep up the good work. It is refreshing to see someone else promoting
facts and the truth. Don’t let up!


The main premise of the magnetic field theory is that it controls cosmic rays which in turn affect cloud nucleation. Low magnetic field = more cosmic rays = more cloud cover = lower global temperature.
Since we have gone well over a year now with low solar activity and, according to the graph above, lower magnetic field, is that any global cloud cover data that we can correlate with?

Gary Gulrud

MattN: Could not agree more on Dr. Landscheidt. Even though he may have been a largely self-taught Heliophysicist he had phenomenal instincts unlike some academicians, e.g, Leif Svalgaard, who are his steadfast detractors.
Ran across a paper by Tsagas(2006) that might point to the second derivative zeroes in solar angular momentum due to barycentric orbit causing a relativistic perturbration by means of the Lorentz force. The transit through the gravitaional well would induce a repulsive force at right angles to the field, i.e., the polar axis, suffcient to stop the gravitational collapse of a black hole.
The field’s hystereisis would rigidly oppose the imposed deformation due to the transit. DeJager, Versteegh(2004) criticised Landscheidt’s proposal believing it to imply a tidal force as the cause (a change in direction of the angular momentum), but the Dr. did not specifiy the source. I believe the Dr. will be found correct and has more surprises in store.

Stan Needham

Golf Stream. Is *that* where all my golf balls end up?
LOL, Matt. The ones in the stream are pretty easy to retrieve; the ones in the pond and the woods, not so much.
Great post, Anthony.

Jeff C.

Like many of the others, I also believe we are entering a prolonged period of lowered solar activity with will have adverse (read colder) effects on climate. However, the sharp step-function drop in the Geomagnetic Average Planetary Index that started in October 2005 just doesn’t look natural.
As a Systems Engineer, when I see something like this my first reaction is “bad data”. It’s a hunch but usually correct. Anthony alluded to this sentiment when he compared the plot to that of a relocated temperature station. I’ll try to do some digging into the data provenance. If its real, the implications could be huge.
REPLY: Jeff, I thought that initially too, and I looked at the source of the Ap data and found this in SWPAC’s header for the dataset they published:
Source Ap: GeoForschungsZentrum, Postdam, Germany
Prior to January 1997, Institut fur Geophysik, Gottingen, Germany
So it didn’t seem like a data source on instrument switch, that I could find. Partial collapse of the geomagnetic fields is a real possibility too.


This might help: http://www.dxlc.com/solar/
Try contacting Jan.


The only good thing about this cold snap is all the pseudo scientists that will get fired.
No they won’t. They will say GW was a 90% likelihood and a >10% anomaly occurred. Then they will apply for bonuses for their deep insight. Which they will receive.
“All they want is their political outcomes no matter how they are obtained.”
I cannot prove nor disprove that. But I cannot help noting that the ONLY element in this entire debate that has not changed is that it is imperative to curtail economic growth. And that is the ONE thing to which I am unalterably opposed.
If there IS a serious warming problem and it IS anthropogenic, the only way mankind will have any hope of dealing with it effectively is via yet-to-come advanced technology and a greater abumdance of wealth than we probably have.
Yes, the Zhukov approach is not the most subtle method, but it is by far the most likely to be effective if needed and will be hugely beneficial even if it is not needed. Zuk was, after all, highly sucessful. A sort of reverse-Pascal argument.
If there is a problem we need wealth and tech to deal with it. Anti-growth could doom us in the name of saving us.
“Unfortunately Per, the Warmists will merely change tack. ”
The hypostasized proof (which avoids the inconvenience of falsifiability) is a primary tool of those who advance the AGW-as-primary theory. That and the pseudo-proof (which does much the same thing). It all amounts to the argument that Everything = X, and that X is proven by X itself.
Meanwhile: “Cycle 24 where aaaaaaaare you?”


“So it didn’t seem like a data source on instrument switch, that I could find. Partial collapse of the geomagnetic fields is a real possibility too.”
Surely, an honest-to-God SOLAR scientist should be able to help us here….


I think that the real danger here is our absolute lack of forethought and preparedness for a period of cooling. If there actually was going to be warming, it seems that it would result in a period of agricultural abundance. Warm climatological conditions are good for most things human. Cooling, on the other hand, will result in a period of hardship.
There is relatively little that needs to be done to respond to warming. Cooling will require a rethinking of crop management or we may see world food shortages and the political and social instability that follows a short step behind. We are selling our economy on the idea of turning our arable land to the task of fuel production, in an effort to reduce the use of petroleum, in the hopes of reducing greenhouse gasses, in the belief that this will stabilize our climate. I do not see anything positive coming out of our current policies.
I wish that there were more discussion in the media about this topic. We need to educate people on the real possibilities of climate change….not the popular ones.


Anthony, the magnetic measure you are talking about measured across these two sites in the ‘aa’ Index and is available here:


Wow, it’s just like that Twilight Zone episode, The Midnight Sun . She dreamt the Earth was getting too hot, but it was really getting too cold.
The poles of fear, the extremes of how the Earth might conceivably be doomed. Minor exercise in the care and feeding of a nightmare, respectfully submitted by all the thermometer-watchers in the Twilight Zone.

Stan Needham

Anthony, the following excerpt is from the NASA GISS press release you linked to in the next to last paragraph of your post. Am I reading it wrong, or does it not contradict the main premise of the Alarmists that there is virtually no scientific evidence that the warming of the last century can be attributed to anything other than man-made increases in CO2? Although they do appear to have given themselves an out by noting that “if the trend” (which they say exists) does really for sure, actually exist, then………….. talk about parsing words to cover your bases.

“Historical records of solar activity indicate that solar radiation has been increasing since the late 19th century. If a trend, comparable to the one found in this study, persisted throughout the 20th century, it would have provided a significant component of the global warming the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports to have occurred over the past 100 years,” he said.

Sorry about the off-topic comment, but I was wondering what the global average temperature curves look like when you throwout the peaks of 98/99.
The heat that entered the climate then quickly left, suggesting that the greenhouse effect wasn’t very effective in trapping much, if any, of it. Can we set up a filter sytem that only looks at the bottom point of fluctuations in global average temperature? I’d really like to see what that looks like since it should give us a good upper-bound on the amount of warming that could possibly be attibuted to changes in the greenhouse effect.

But how does the lack of sunspots factor into solar forcing of our climate? That’s the real question…. Sunspots are *cool* regions on the sun… and as far as I’ve been able to find out, solar forcing in our atmosphere only changes by about 0.1 W/m2 between solar maximum and solar minimum (http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/244.htm). So it would have changed very little in the last 2-3 years. In any case, this is significantly lower than the about 0.4 W/m2 due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
Also, as far as I’ve been able to tell, climatologists are still very unsure about connections between the Maunder Minimum (1645-1715 AD) and the Little Ice Age in Europe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Ice_Age).
REPLY: Sunspots aren’t the driver, but are a proxy indicator for solar activity. If Svensmark is correct, the solar magnetic field modulates the number f cosmic rays incidenatl on the earths upper atmosphere, resulting in cloud condensation nuclei changes, resulting in cloud cover changes, which affect TSI at the surface.


Time series of the Earth’s albdeo can be found


Oh, more food for thought: The effects of CRF are often dismissed because volcanic activity released particulate matter and aerosols during recent luls in solar activity. We know that CRF is associated with ionization that produces clouds, what we haven’t investigate yet is whether similar interaction may result in increased aerosol formation and possibly increased volcanic activity. After all, we do know that ions are precursers to aerosols.
MODERATOR NOTE: CRF is “Cosmic Ray Flux”

Jim Arndt

I quote Leif Svalgaard:

“My favorite definition of solar minimum is when the heliomagnetic current sheet is the flattest. I’m explaining this in the forthcoming ‘notes’ [coming real soon now]. Minimum is at least half a year away, maybe more. This ‘prediction’ will, of course, change as time goes on and we ain’t got the minimum yet.”


Although my earlier comment was humor, I have to say that I actually take this very seriously. I also was unaware of the drop in October 2005, and I find it fascinating… and a bit frightening.
The way the AGW industry has set themselves up, they’ll probably pat themselves on the back for any cooling, and will convince many people that their sacrifices and hard work are the cause. Of course, the fact that their most dire warming predictions magically line up with the expected results of Cycle 24 has to be complete coincidence, right? How is that going to work when it doesn’t happen?
What a brilliant time for us to be converting food crops to fuel…

[…] In January I posted thread on solar cycle 24 starting. It now appears that this could have been a false alarm. There seem to be some very strange happenings on the sun. "Given the current quietness of […]


Does anyone know what Jasper Kirkby, of CERN and CLOUD, presented in a paper to the Royal Scientific Academy of Sweden, yesterday?


No, what kim?


Excellent post, Anthony.
If we do see continued climate cooling and it starts to impact agricultural production then we will return to the regular famines that have dissapeared over the last 30 years.
The problem will be that the ideology of global warming is so entrenched that steps mitigate food supply problems won’t be taken because this would be an admission that the steps taken to mitigate GW were wrong, and as a result food supply problems will be worse than they would be otherwise.
For example, India is currently developing more heat tolerant strains of wheat in preparation for the anticipated warming. But this has been a winter of record cold across the wheat growing areas of northern India.
The temps over the next few weeks will determine how good the wheat harvest is. If the cold weather continues, we will see the impact on food supply in a couple of months.
This quote from a couple of days ago,
“We will be able to achieve the expected production level of wheat but this will be subject to the temperatures in February and March,” Farm Secretary P.K. Mishra told Reuters in an interview.


Gore et al care less about AGW than about resource control. They will just switch tack if we go into a colder regime and state that we must save resources to prevent people from dying from cold and starvation. Of course they will be the ones with their great knowledge and foresight to make the decisions of how those resources will be allocated. Remember the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”? Gore will use that as an example of why he is still right. Damn the science or facts.

Kim, it looks like a review of the historical data, etc. Re: What we already know.
I don’t think they have done any experimenting yet.


Andrew, I’m in the dark, too. I know he presented, and there is a brief abstract in the announcement of the presentation, but I also presume he has the latest from the CLOUD studies.

Anthony, many thanks for a simple yet comprehensive explanation of the Sun’s rubber-band-like magnetic fields. As an avid balsa-wood-plane flyer about, oh, a half-century ago, I instantly ‘got’ the sense of how a magnetically-paired sunspot would break out of the sphere. I’d never had that understanding before. Keep up the good work.
REPLY: My pleasure, being on TV explaining how the weather works has helped me here.


I suppose the Vice Chairman of GM has a pretty strong opinion of global warming:

John Reading

This is much worse than I had been led to believe. Humans and their naughty industrializations have not only destroyed the earth, but now we learn that they have even slowed down the sun! The U.N. must be given authority to tax everyone on earth before it is too late. And students should not be forced to pay back their college loans if they are studying the crises of global warming.