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Sun’s magnetics remain in a funk: sunspots may be on their way out

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Watts Up With That?
Sept 19, 2010

We covered this story about solar magnetic field strength and sunspot contrast months ago on WUWT, and for a couple of years now I have been pointing out that the Ap Interplantary magnetic index took a dive, and has stayed at low levels. For example, this month, it remains stalled:

Late last year I ran this story:

Solar geomagnetic index reaches unprecedented low – only “zero” could be lower – in a month when sunspots became more active

In June 2008, WUWT published a wake up call, which had at that time, been mostly ignored by mainstream science:

Livingston and Penn paper: “Sunspots may vanish by 2015″.

But the rest of the world is now just getting around to realizing the significance of the work Livingston and Penn are doing related to sunspots. Science just ran with a significant story that is getting lots of press: Say goodbye to sunspots

Here’s a prominent excerpt:

The last solar minimum should have ended last year, but something peculiar has been happening. Although solar minimums normally last about 16 months, the current one has stretched over 26 months—the longest in a century. One reason, according to a paper submitted to the International Astronomical Union Symposium No. 273, an online colloquium, is that the magnetic field strength of sunspots appears to be waning.

Scientists studying sunspots for the past 2 decades have concluded that the magnetic field that triggers their formation has been steadily declining. If the current trend continues, by 2016 the sun’s face may become spotless and remain that way for decades—a phenomenon that in the 17th century coincided with a prolonged period of cooling on Earth.

Meanwhile, both the sunspot count and the 10.7 cm solar radio flux continue to lag well behind the prediction curves:

These three indicators, taken together, suggest the solar magnetic dynamo is having trouble getting restarted for solar cycle 24, which so far is not only late, but groggy.

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But back to the Livingston and Penn article from Science. The most telling graph is one that Dr. Leif Svalgaard keeps updated:


Here’s the issue, which WUWT summed up when we printed excepts of Livingston and Penn in EOS. As WUWT readers may recall, we had a preview of that EOS article here.

L&P write in the EOS article:

For hundreds of years, humans have observed that the Sun has displayed activity where the number of sunspots increases and then decreases at approximately 11- year intervals. Sunspots are dark regions on the solar disk with magnetic field strengths greater than 1500 gauss (see Figure 1), and the 11- year sunspot cycle is actually a 22- year cycle in the solar magnetic field, with sunspots showing the same hemispheric magnetic polarity on alternate 11- year cycles.

In a nutshell, once the magnetic field gets below 1500 gauss, sunspots won’t have enough contrast to be visible.

Now maybe with the Science magazine article, the powers that be at the National Solar Observatory will give them more telescope time.They’ve had a lot of trouble getting time because the “consensus” of solar science didn’t embrace their idea. That may be about to change. With something this important, one would hope.

This article was posted: Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 4:13 am

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