Solar minimum surprisingly constant
More than half a century of observation yields new discovery
NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF NATURAL SCIENCES
Using more than half a century of observations, Japanese astronomers have discovered that the microwaves coming from the Sun at the minimums of the past five solar cycles have been the same each time, despite large differences in the maximums of the cycles.
In Japan, continuous four-frequency solar microwave observations (1, 2, 3.75 and 9.4 GHz) began in 1957 at the Toyokawa Branch of the Research Institute of Atmospherics, Nagoya University. In 1994 the telescopes were relocated to NAOJ Nobeyama Campus, where they have continued observations up to the present.
A research group led by Masumi Shimojo (Assistant Professor at NAOJ Chile Observatory), including members from Nagoya University, Kyoto University, and Ibaraki University, analyzed the more than 60 years of solar microwave data from these telescopes. They found that microwave intensities and spectra at the minimums of the latest five cycles were the same every time. In contrast, during the periods of maximum solar activity, both the intensity and spectrum varied from cycle to cycle.
Masumi Shimojo explains that,
“Other than sunspot observations, uniform long-term observations are rare in solar astronomy. It is very meaningful to discover a trend extending beyond a single solar cycle. This is an important step in understanding the creation and amplification of solar magnetic fields, which generate sunspots and other solar activity.”
The Sun goes through a cycle of active and quiet periods approximately once every 11 years. This “solar cycle” is often associated with the number of sunspots, but there are other types of solar activity as well. So simply counting the number of sunspots is insufficient to understand the solar activity conditions.
Microwaves are another indicator of solar activity. Microwaves have the advantage that, unlike sunspots, they can be observed on cloudy days. Also, monitoring multiple frequencies of microwaves makes it possible to calculate the relative strength at each frequency (this is called the spectrum).
The paper: Variation of the Solar Microwave Spectrum in the Last Half Century
The total solar fluxes at 1, 2, 3.75, and 9.4 GHz were observed continuously from 1957 to 1994 at Toyokawa, Japan, and from 1994 until now at Nobeyama, Japan, with the current Nobeyama Radio Polarimeters. We examined the multi-frequency and long-term data sets, and found that not only the microwave solar flux but also its monthly standard deviation indicate the long-term variation of solar activity. Furthermore, we found that the microwave spectra at the solar minima of Cycles 20–24 agree with each other. These results show that the average atmospheric structure above the upper chromosphere in the quiet-Sun has not varied for half a century, and suggest that the energy input for atmospheric heating from the sub-photosphere to the corona have not changed in the quiet-Sun despite significantly differing strengths of magnetic activity in the last five solar cycles.