Looks like the Sun is in its teens again

By Phil Plait | February 8, 2010 8:00 am

I’ve been posting sporadically on how sunspots are starting to come back to the Sun, and I’m glad to see a new group sprouted up recently… and it’s a monster:

soho_sun_feb2010

These images are from SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The orange one is in visible light, and the sunspots are pretty obvious. The green one shows the Sun in the far ultraviolet, and you can see the sunspots are pretty intense, blasting out high-energy light. Sunspots are indicators of magnetic activity, and the intense magnetic field can accelerate plasma (ionized gas) to high energies.

Just so’s you know, a hundred Earths could fit across this image, so that oughta give you an idea of just how big these blemishes are.

What this means is that the Sun is becoming active again. You can see it better in this video I put together using SOHO animations. These are real SOHO observations. Note that some of the data are missing so the Sun’s rotation is a bit jerky, and that you can see that data dropouts and other problems plague these sort of observations. Oh– actually, another group popped up on the Sun earlier, too, and you can see those in the visible light data.

You can actually see the plasma flowing along the magnetic field lines in the latter part of the video.

Right now, the Sun is struggling to climb back up to the peak of its magnetic cycle, which will probably occur in 2013 or later, given how slow this has been — which you might want to keep in mind if some crackpot or scammer is trying to sell you on the idea that solar activity will destroy the Earth in 2012. When the Sun is at its peak, the magnetic field is at its strongest, and we see the most sunspots. However, the strongest solar flares and other explosive events tend not to happen until well after the cycle peaks, so it’ll be late 2013 or 2014 before we see the most vigorous activity, if the Sun holds to its previous behavior.

Again, people selling you on 2012 disasters generally have a very tenuous grasp on science. The less you know the better for them.

I expect we’ll be seeing more and more sunspots now as time goes by. It’s nice to see this happening, as it adds to the activity seen in December, and ends a long period of minimal sunspots — heck, for a long time, there were none at all. Boring. Now we can look forward to some exciting action again… just in time for SDO to launch, too!

[P.S. If anyone can tell me why the first few frames of my uploaded videos turn gray sometimes, that would be nice. I don't know whether to curse iMovie, Flash, YouTube, or all three.]

Image credit: SOHO (ESA and NASA)

MORE ABOUT: SOHO, Sun, sunspots

Comments (46)

Links to this Post

  1. Warming to Climate Claims | Dangerous Intersection | February 9, 2010
  1. Plainly the LHC has created black holes on the Sun. We’re doomed!

  2. Charles Boyer

    “people selling you on 2012 disasters generally have a very tenuous grasp on science. The less you know the better for them. “

    You just described politics perfectly, except it more than science..it’s pretty much everything. The less you know about _______ (insert issue here) the better it is for them.

  3. Gary Ansorge

    Phil:

    Flash has some problems which is one reason it’s not supported on the new iPad.

    Only thing I can say about these images is:

    “Ooh! OOh! OOH!”

    Darn! I sound like a chimp.

    Gary 7

  4. I sound like a chimp.

    Or like you’re really enjoying the photos. Astro-perv. ;-P

  5. I would curse YouTube. It doesn’t like quicktime so much. Best to put half a second or so of black leader on the head and tail of your clips, just in case YouTube decides to weird out on you.

  6. Saw the video yesterday, it is pretty cool. Does anyone know how the recent solar minimum compares to historical minimums? I know it was longer than usual, but not really by what factor? Does it point to a longer than usual cycle, or a lower energy cycle, or a lower activity cycle, or maybe a combination? Will there be any observable effects on us here on earth as a result of this possible anomalous cycle?

  7. J_w23

    If you are eager to look over the sun’s horizon, Phil, just check out Stereo! http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

  8. rob

    so when a crackpot tries to convince me that the sun is gonna destroy the world in 2012, i should just laugh and reply that science shows peak solar activity won’t be til late 2013 or 2014. *that’s* when the sun will destroy the earth.

    stoopid crackpots are always off by years!

  9. Software engineers like me love sunspots. They make a great excuse to cover for software bugs.

  10. NewEnglandBob

    ” I don’t know whether to curse iMovie, Flash, YouTube, or all three.”

    Now you know better than to start anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. It was caused by the weather, silly; the solar weather, especially the magnetic interference from solar flares!

  11. Tensor

    Hey, a sun that is green, that proves the iron sun theory, right? ;-)

  12. StevoR

    [P.S. If anyone can tell me why the first few frames of my uploaded videos turn gray sometimes, that would be nice. I don't know whether to curse iMovie, Flash, YouTube, or all three.]

    I just curse my computer. Covers all bases. (& a few acids & salts too!) ;-)

    Of course, *if* you actually belived in “curses” and the like, blessing would prob’ly improve things more than cursing them would! ;-)

    Good to know there’s not another Maunder or Sporer minimum in sight – this cycle anyhow. ;-)

    @ 10. Tensor Says:

    Hey, a sun that is green, that proves the iron sun theory, right?

    No, it is evidence we’ve been mysteriously transported to the one known green star : Zubeneschamali or Beta Librae while we slept or something actually! ;-)

    See : http://stars.astro.illinois.edu/sow/zubenes.html

    NB. Gliese 581 with its renowned multiple exoplanetary system is almost in the same field of view of that rare green star – just 2 degrees north. See :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_581
    Funny I always though our Moon was supposed to be made of *green* cheese not our Sun! ;-)

    PS. Happy 12th birthday to James Kaler’s superluminous (ie beyond just brilliant) ‘Stars’ website! Born January 30, 1998 & now up to 636 stars surely putting it mega-parsecs ahead of all movies and such like forms of entertainment! :-)

    PPS. BA in case you’re interested, you did hear that Gamma Ray Burst
    GRB 970508 made wikipedia “feature article” the other day didn’t you? Do you remember that ‘un?

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GRB_970508

    A spotty Sun?
    Oh well done!
    To good ole magnetism! ;-)

  13. TheMark

    Re: the dropout after the first keyframe on Youtube: I suppose you’re uploading H.264? Don’t do that. Youtube doesn’t like the first keyframe, and goes gray, piling on incremental changes until the next keyframe occurs. My workaround is to use Quicktime/Custom Settings/Format: JPEG, Quality around 80-90%, as “intermediate” file for uploading. Haven’t had a dropout since. Of course, it eats up lots of transfer volume, but it gives Youtube at least some decent input source to do their own compression on top of.

    Good luck…

  14. This is good news. I was just talking to a solar researcher a while back who admitted scientists have been by confused how quite the sun spots are. It’s good to see that are back!

  15. Lupine

    The sun should really get that spot looked at….

  16. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Magnetic fields, sunspots yield,
    And from thence comes our weather
    Whether climate too that way comes
    Is another debate altogether! ;-)

    The fields coil, the fields churn
    Three thousand hot degrees
    Against the Sun appearing cold
    For that is how they seem!

    They cycle in, they cycle out,
    From max to min away
    These cycles we do carefully count
    Yet still it gang aflat agley*

    For new years on the Sun they come
    Twenty-two years or eleven
    And blazing in our eyes it shines
    This brilliant G2 V ball yellow!**

    Doggrel of the night supplied by StevoR a.k.a. Plutonium Being from Pluto where the Sun is 1,000 times brighter fainter (D’oh! ed!) and insomniac semi-consciousness is the norm. ;-)

    Enjoy y’all! I hope. 8)

    (This doggrel I mean not insomnia!) ;-)

    ******

    * Spelling? May be wrong? “Gang aflat agley” = ‘often goes awry’ is about the one bit of Auld Lang Syne that I sorta understand even though I, like most others, sing it drunkenly every New Years Eve.

    ** Yes, I *did* read the BA’s book &, yes, I know the Sun puts out most of its visual light at green & not yellow wavelengths. I’ve also seen our Sun in the startling crimson of a hydrogen-alpha filter and know too that it appears white once we get outside the Rayleigh Scattering of our sky. Just grant me a little poetic liscence and appeal to popular perceptions here, m’kay? ;-)

    PS. Yes I’m going to try & get some sleep now – yes I’m not American but Aussie based. Have a good ‘un y’all. :-)

  17. BJN

    “Struggling” isn’t something I can imagine the Sun doing, even metaphorically.

  18. Jean-Denis

    Now the thing is that *proves* that GW is not man-made but sun-made…

    I said it first!

  19. Peptron

    So, what it means is that… in 2014 there will be a solar flare so strong that it will send Earth 2 years back in time, and then the world will end in 2012.

    The Earth is a busy place, it just never ends to end.

  20. Asimov fan

    ^ Or perhaps 2042 instead according to Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter’s magnificent Time Odyssey trilogy, esp. Sunstorm :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunstorm_(novel)

    the middle book of that series which I have just finished reading & can now thoroughly recommend as a great hard SF read. Five stars! ;-)

  21. If the sun is again active after the longest solar minimum in a century, its intense emissions will heat the Earth’s upper atmosphere, expanding it outward. Inspiraled orbital debris will have record re-entry rates. ISS FUBAR will be severely affected: its asstronaughts being fried by radiation and its immense solar panel area (32,528 ft^2) in low altitude orbit catching the gas. NASA will whine about boosting it or loosing it. Australian Shire of Esperance take note.

  22. Asimov fan

    Ah yes, good Skylab reference there. :-)

    From : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skylab

    Skylab’s demise was an international media event, with merchandising, wagering on time and place of re-entry and nightly news reports. The San Francisco Examiner offered a $10,000 prize for the first piece of Skylab to be delivered to their offices. Seventeen-year-old Stan Thornton scooped a few pieces of Skylab off the roof of his home in Esperance, W.A., and then caught the first flight to San Francisco, where he collected his prize. In a coincidence for the organizers, the annual Miss Universe pageant was scheduled to be held a few days later, on 20 July 1979 in nearby Perth, Western Australia. A large piece of Skylab debris was displayed on the stage.

    &

    The Shire of Esperance fined the United States $400 for littering, a fine which remained unpaid for 30 years.[3][4] The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners and paid the fine on behalf of NASA.[5]

    Nice one Uncle Al. ;-)

  23. Chris the Pragmatist

    Okay, so Sunspots and solar activity are on the rise and will peak in and around 2013 or 2014? This, according to 2012 conspiricists, is hwo the earth is going to end? What, is this the first time the sun has rised in activity? No. Has the world ended before because of the suns activity? No. Boy, what a bummer for them when they wake up January 1, 2015 and realize they still have to live their lives? Of course, this is assuming any of them really HAVE lives ….

  24. David E. Bruni

    “…it’ll be late 2013 or 2014 before we see the most vigorous activity…”

    Does this mean that this period will also be the best one to see auroras? I was going to plan an holiday dedicated to aurora spotting in the northern skies… :-)

  25. Cindy

    I’m glad sunspots are back. I’m teaching Astro in the spring and the past two years I haven’t had my students look at the sun (with a proper solar filter in place) through the telescope at sunspots. Last year, I couldn’t even find any sunspots on recent SOHO data and had to go back to earlier data.

  26. John Paradox

    @Pluto: * Spelling? May be wrong? “Gang aflat agley” = ‘often goes awry

    Actually, it’s gang aft agley, and is from Robert Burns’ To A Mouse. (How much did you have to drink before singing Auld Lang Syne, since it’s not in the song?)
    To A Mouse

    J/P=?

  27. Does anybody know how will this impact global climate?

  28. Chris the Pragmatist

    I think the sun needs to change it’s eating habits and wash it’s face more often again. Either that or send up a giant bottle of clearasil!!!

  29. Jon B

    Does the text “CCD Bakeout” superimposed on the video at about 0:37 mean what I think it does?

  30. Hecateus

    @27.
    It will likely heat things up down here. The hot heads with more hot air than facts will likely explode.

    Generally,
    Has there been any advances in knowledge of Carrington events which haven’t made it to Wikipedia?

  31. Jole

    CCD Bakeout, data missing… I was expecting a bit more paranoia in the comments…the silence is clearly a Big Sola conspiracy.
    Oh, nice video.

  32. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 26. John Paradox Says:

    @Pluto: * Spelling? May be wrong? “Gang aflat agley” = ‘often goes awry

    Actually, it’s gang aft agley, and is from Robert Burns’ To A Mouse.

    Aha! Thanks! That’s the words / spelling I was looking for! :-)

    (How much did you have to drink before singing Auld Lang Syne, since it’s not in the song?) To A Mouse J/P=?

    Err .. lots! ;-)

  33. Plutonium being from Pluto

    @ 23. Chris the Pragmatist Says:

    Okay, so Sunspots and solar activity are on the rise and will peak in and around 2013 or 2014? This, according to 2012 conspiricists, is hwo the earth is going to end? What, is this the first time the sun has rised in activity? No. Has the world ended before because of the suns activity? No. Boy, what a bummer for them when they wake up January 1, 2015 and realize they still have to live their lives? Of course, this is assuming any of them really HAVE lives ….

    Oh, I’m sure they’ll find something else just like the AGW Alarmists will. :roll:

    Predictions of the E-eee-nd of the Wor-rrld whether based on Mayan mythological nonsense or CRU faked & spun data have been around since forever & have a 100% failure rate.

    You’d think eventually we’d learn .. that people would say, “no, we don’t buy it” to the next scare or the one after that or the one after that one or just remember “hey these guys were predicting the Second Coming / an Ice Age / Armageddon ages ago withequal certainty & got it wrong” thus realise that maybe we can’t trust ‘em this time? But no, sadly they never do. :roll:

    @ 30. Hecateus Says:

    @27. It will likely heat things up down here. The hot heads with more hot air than facts will likely explode.

    Do you mean the Global Warming Alarmists who worship the likes of Al Gore?

    Thankfully, it seems that particular “scare-pocalypse” fad is now in full & rapid retreat following climategate and the IPCC revealed to be dodgy-as in making false “disaster porn” claims.

    Skepticism – aided by the reality of snowstorms outside their windows and the inconvenient facts of no rapid warming as predicted is slowly creeping in although many “true green” beleivers will take a long time before realising that their chief bogeyman is missing in action & has been for some time.

    I look forward to the rising tide of skepticism on this scare campaign finally reaching the BA and Dr Plait finally waking up to the mundane truth that the planet warms & cools cyclically, always has done & there is no human factor at play here let alone the plant food that is CO2. Eventually the BA’s instincts as a skeptic in seeing the Emperors nudity has to take over from his political blinkers that he must follow the AGW cultural orthodoxy surely? Hopefully sooner rather than later.

    - StevoR aka Plutonium being from Pluto.

  34. StevoR

    Here’s a prediction for y’all :

    In not too long a time from now being worried about AGW will be as uncool as still being in a panic over the Y2K bug is today. ;-)

    BA please take note.

  35. mike burkhart

    sun spots allways look to me like some one shot holes in the sun with a shotgun (ok I know thats impossable ) as for the end of the world that won’t come for 1 or 5 billon years from now when the sun enters red giant stage hopefully we will discover a way off the planet and discovered another planet like Earth to live on

  36. MadScientist

    Not the biggest spot group I’ve seen – not by a long shot – but those spots are monstrous (at least compared to our tiny rock called earth).

    @Mike Burkhart: If you look at a magnified image of the sun (the images as they appear on this page are too small), you’ll see that the spots have fuzzy shaded edges and are not really as sharply defined as one might think from looking at a small image. If you choose a very narrow band of light (for example, Hydrogen ‘alpha’ line) things look very different yet again. If you look with a polarizer things change yet again …

  37. llewelly

    Slugsie, February 8th, 2010 at 8:33 am :

    Does anyone know how the recent solar minimum compares to historical minimums?

    This article is not about the sun per se, but it includes a nice composite graph of total solar irradiance using data from reconstructions by Krivova and Solanki, and data from PMOD. You can find out more about PMOD here, and you find out more about the work of Krivova and Solanki here (home here) (both links having more graphs, and links to the peer-reviewed work.)

  38. llewelly

    Plutonium being from Pluto February 8th, 2010 at 8:29 pm :

    Predictions of the E-eee-nd of the Wor-rrld whether based on Mayan mythological nonsense or CRU faked & spun data have been around since forever & have a 100% failure rate.

    You are wrong to think the 2012 “end of the world” myth comes from Mayan myth. It does not; as explained on this blog many times in the past, Mayan myth implies nothing of the sort. “end of the word in 2012″ was invented by people who do not understand Mayan myths.

    Your comparison of the “end of the world in 2012″ myth to the well-established scientific reality of human-caused global warming is a strawman. Not only is AGW based on empirical evidence and reason, it is also, not a prediction of the “end of the world”. Rather, it is a solvable problem, a potential disaster which can be averted. Furthermore, should AGW not be averted, it will do great damage to human civilizations, but it will not end the world. In these three crucial respects it differs from the 2012 myth.

    The CRU has not been shown to have faked data. Those who have claimed it faked data have mistaken IDL for Fortran, and they have mistaken comments for code. These are very basic, relatively easy to avoid errors. Anyone with sense should be skeptical of their interpretation of the code. Furthermore – those attacking the CRU misrepresented nearly every email they mentioned. (Example of repeat offender.)

    Most importantly, nearly all of the scientific work done at the CRU has been supported by other work by independent scientists; even if all the work done at the CRU was found to be wrong (highly unlikely), the remaining science, from independent institutions, would overwhelmingly support the fact that modern global warming is real, dangerous, and caused by humans. AGW does not rely on the work of any single institution (much less that of any single scientist); it is supported by tens of thousands of papers by thousands of independent scientists.

    Skepticism – aided by the reality of snowstorms outside their windows and the inconvenient facts of no rapid warming as predicted is slowly creeping in although many “true green” beleivers will take a long time before realising that their chief bogeyman is missing in action & has been for some time.

    Global warming is a long term trend. It is not proved or disproved by a few extreme weather events. Global warming is still happening.

    In not too long a time from now being worried about AGW will be as uncool as still being in a panic over the Y2K bug is today

    Y2k bugs were real, and many had the potential to cause severe problems. However, the danger was recognized several years in advance (most notably when a parts ordering system at Boeing, which made orders with 7 year lead times, began to malfunction in 1993). Thousands of programmers worked thousands of hours finding and fixing Y2k bugs, and all the important ones were found in time. (Most were probably found 6-12 months prior to 2000.) Disaster was averted by a great deal of hard work, not because there was no danger. AGW is a problem of much larger scale, but it too can be solved if we act in time.

  39. Joe

    It is hard to say. I think I have had a similar discussion on my website http://www.2012-decoded.com
    But the truth is no one really knows, it is so hard to tell because evidence points in different directions. I think it is going to be something good, an advancement in humanity, but who knows right?

  40. Michel
  41. Gary Ansorge

    38. llewelly

    The major problem with making accurate predictions of uncool events is the Cassandra effect: if your predictions are believed, the projected event will be avoided, then, since the predicted event didn’t occur, the next such prediction is ignored and calamity occurs. Comparisons of Y2K with AGW predictions are a case in point.

    Sometimes, we’re victims of our own perspicacity.

    GAry 7

  42. So you’re saying the end of the world will com in 2014, NOT 2012?

  43. Llewelly -

    Yup. What I spent a big chunk of 1998 and a good part of 1999 (and half the night of Dec 31, 1999) doing… (The one Y2K bug was an absolutely trivial incorrect date printed on the label for the system backup tape made early on Jan. 1. – it said “Jan 1, 19100″. Damn. The tape it self was fine. I could have edited and re-printed the tape report, and fixed the bug for Jan 2, but the customer wanted the 4-hour backup batch re-run, which meant I had to sit up all night waiting for it. Worked perfectly the 2nd time. The really annoying bit was it was exactly the class of bug we looked for (and fixed many instances of) during the preceding 18 months… I never figured out how this one slipped through.)

  44. Charlie in Dayton

    …sunspots?…we gots sunspots again??

    YippeeKiYay, motoscooters…hot diddley ding darn, he said with a big grin…ol’ Sol’s got hisself a pox, and that bears well for us ham radio operatin’ types…maybe now we’ll get some REAL long distance radidio communications, instead of whoopin’ it up about being able to talk two counties over…’bout time…

  45. Sunspots are a tell all sign that the earths magnetic fields are waking up and the universal energy is getting ready to hit us with powerful majestic powers.

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