Calling cycle 24, calling cycle 24……where are you?
Image from SOHO, inset added by the author
The SIDC in Belgium just issed an end to their “all quiet alert”
:Issued: 2008 Feb 26 1255 UTC
:Product: documentation at http://www.sidc.be/products/quieta
# From the SIDC (RWC-Belgium): “ALL QUIET” ALERT #
END OF ALL QUIET ALERT
The SIDC – RWC Belgium expects solar or geomagnetic activity to
increase. This may end quiet Space Weather conditions.
The first new sunspot in weeks has emerged today. The spot that has emerged is small and on the equator, so it appears that it is a cycle 23 spot rather than one from the cycle 24 that is gave one spot on January 8th, signaling a start of cycle 24, but has given no cycle 24 type spots since.
Based on what we know about the sun, a cycle 24 spot would be reverse polarity to cycle 23 spots and high latitude. The longer cycle 24 continues to delay producing its spots heightens the concern that we may be in for a longer inactive period on the sun, such as a Dalton type minimum.
A thought occurred to me. Given that all of the sunspots seen recently during our solar minimum are very small, I wonder if they could be resolved at all with the primitive equipment available during periods like the Maunder Minimum? Today we have satellites and advanced solar telescopes with hydrogen spectra filters that are available to amateurs, so catching any sunspot, even if small, is now easy. In fact this sunspot was was first noted by an amateur observer, Howard Eskildsen, in Ocala, FL, showing that amateurs still have a role in science.
It makes me wonder if an extended minimum really isn’t an absence of sunspots altogether, but just an absence of larger easily observable sunspots. It is possible that primitive equipment of the period could not easily resolve smaller sunspots.