Watts Up With That? 
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Leif Svalgaard has been saying for sometime now that Solar Cycle 24 seems to be getting underway. Seeing sunspot group 1024 today, I’m tending to agree.
The magnetic polarity (seen on the SOHO magnetogram) of the spot group combined with the middle latitude indicates it is a cycle 24 spot.
The most active sunspot of the year so far is emerging in the sun’s southern hemisphere: movie . Sunspot 1024 has at least a dozen individual dark cores and it is crackling with B-class  solar flares. This morning, amateur astronomer David Tyler caught one of the flares in action from his backyard solar observatory in England:
The magnetic polarity of sunspot 1024 identifies it as a member of new Solar Cycle 24. Its rapid emergence on July 3rd and 4th continues the recent (few-month) trend of intensifying new-cycle activity. This sunspot is the best offering yet from the young solar cycle.
I agree. This one looks like a “normal” sunspot. The question now is: how long will it last? Many promising cycle 24 sunspots have fizzed just as quickly as they arrived. Cycle 24 has not yet shown any indications of spot stamina.
In other news, the SOHO satellite has developed a problem with its pointing motor  for the high gain antenna.
This is a serious concern, and data outages are already happening  due to limited pointing ability. There is a backup spacecraft for SOHO in the pipeline, the Solar Dynamics Observatory , set for a November 2009 launch date. It has recently been shipped to Cape Canaveral . Lets hope the didn’t use the US postal service or DHL.
In other solar satellite news…
Hi-res TIF  image (4.6M)
Upon receipt of the last command from Earth, the transmitter on Ulysses switched off on June 30, 2009, bringing one of the most successful and longest missions in spaceflight and solar study history to an end. After 18.6 years in space and defying several earlier expectations of its demise, the joint ESA/NASA solar orbiter Ulysses achieved ‘end of mission’. The craft is nearly out of hydrazine fuel for its stabilizing thrusters, and there’s not enough money to continue the mission for another year. A final communication pass with a ground station enabled the final command to be issued to switch the satellite’s radio communications into ‘monitor only’ mode. No further contact with Ulysses is planned.
Ulysses is the first spacecraft to survey the environment in space over the poles of the Sun in the four dimensions of space and time. Among many other ground-breaking results, the hugely successful mission showed that the Sun’s magnetic field is carried into the solar system in a more complicated manner than previously believed. Particles expelled by the Sun from low latitudes can climb up to high latitudes and vice versa, even unexpectedly finding their way down to planets. Regions of the Sun not previously considered as possible sources of hazardous particles for astronauts and satellites must now be carefully monitored. “Ulysses has taught us far more than we ever expected about the Sun and the way it interacts with the space surrounding it,” said Richard Marsden, ESA’s Ulysses Project Scientist and Mission Manager.
So farewell, and congratulations on a job exceedingly well done.