Spotty conclusions about 2012

By Phil Plait | January 23, 2009 11:01 am

Via AstroEngine I just learned of something that is totally cool: an interactive sunspot tool that gives you a sunspot graph for any date.

It queries a table of sunspot numbers on the Sun’s face (averaged over one month) and then plots it, with a time range of 5.5 years on either side, so you see one full 11 year sunspot cycle. The obvious thing to do is input your birthdate. I put in mine, and it’s smack dab in the middle of that particular cycle’s minimum. I mean right on it.

I don’t know what this says about me. I’m guessing nothing.

But I have an interesting idea for this. A lot of people are all panicky over December 2012, because a whole lot of folks are out there lying about it to make money (OK, some are honest, but still wrong, wrong wrong). Some of these doomsayers are claiming the Sun will be blasting out flares at that time, and that could spell trouble on Earth. And yes, there is a lot of flare activity around sunspot peak… but in general the largest and more energetic events happen well after the peak, by as much as a couple of years!

One of the largest flares ever seen was on November 4, 2003. Put that date in the sunspot grapher:

Sunspots on Nov 4 2003

That’s halfway down to the minimum! In fact, the Sun belched out numerous huge events that month, shocking solar astronomers. So while chances are good there will be plenty of solar activity at the peak of the next cycle, predicted to be in 2012, the real fun happens later than the doomcriers would have you think.

So in the next few years, anytime you hear of a big flare, or people trying to tie earthquake activity to the Sun, or whatever, check out that graphing tool and get the actual information for yourself. You may find — gasp — that some people tend to exaggerate reality to promote non-reality.


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