The Naked Sun — Where Have All Its Spots Gone?

By Tom Yulsman | February 6, 2018 12:17 pm
The Naked Sun

Look ma’! No spots!… The Sun on January 26th, 2018. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

The Sun recently decided to go naked for awhile, as is evident from this image acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

It lost its spots.

The image is from a video posted by NASA showing the Sun going naked from Jan. 26th to Jan. 30th, when a very small, lonely spot finally turns up. In fact, NASA says that with the exception of this one spot, the Sun was naked for almost two weeks.

Spotless periods like this are common as the Sun approaches the low point in its 11-year solar cycle. We’re headed for that minimum next year.

By contrast, during the peak of a solar cycle, the Sun is freckled with many spots. These crackle with intense magnetic activity producing flashes of x-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation that can bathe the Earth.

The naked Sun

Top: The freckled Sun, with many sunspots during the peak of the solar cycle, is seen to the left. Compare that to the naked Sun with no sunspots on the right. This occurs as activity fades toward solar minimum. Bottom: When sunspot numbers are high during the peak of a solar cycle, the surface crackles with activity, as seen on the left. By contrast, all is relatively calm when the Sun is headed for solar minimum, as seen on the right. (Source: ScienceAtNASA)

Solar flares often are accompanied by explosions, called coronal mass ejections, that fling gargantuan quantities of energetic particles out into space. Earth can be bombarded by these CME particles, producing a storm in the magnetic bubble that surrounds the planet. This yields beautiful auroras but also potentially damaging effects on satellites, communication systems and power grids.

The Sun reached a peak in this activity in 2014, albeit a weak one. It was, in fact, the weakest maximum in solar activity since 1906.

We’ve been sliding toward solar minimum since then, with sunspots and activity subsiding. The low point in the cycle is expected occur in 2019 to 2020.

The Sun goes naked

From a high in 2014, solar activity, as measured by sunspot numbers, has been declining and is predicted to bottom out in 2019 to 2020. This is part of a roughly 11-year cycle of solar activity. (Source: ScienceAtNASA)

But just because the Sun is relatively calm, and often goes naked, doesn’t mean that it is in hibernation. The Sun is still active, just in a different way.

For example, during solar minimum the Sun often develops vast dark areas in its atmosphere, called coronal holes, where its magnetic field opens out into space. This allows particles to speed outward, forming an enhanced solar wind. When the wind hits the Earth’s geomagnetic field, the results can be similar to coronal mass ejections.

SEE ALSO: A new “hole” in the Sun’s atmosphere has sparked stunning displays of the northern lights here on Earth

The Naked Sun

A view of the Sun acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on Feb. 6, 2018. (Source: NASA SDO)

As I’m writing this on Feb. 6, 2018, the Sun is sporting two of these gigantic coronal holes, one in the north and the other in the south. You can see them in the form of two very dark areas in this image captured by the SDO spacecraft today.

In addition to those coronal holes, there’s also a bit of crackling activity on the surface. Look for two relatively bright areas to the left in the image above. These show that even activity fades, it doesn’t necessarily go away completely. In fact, on January 22nd, the Sun let loose with a solar flare and coronal mass ejection that caused beautiful auroras here on Earth a couple of days later.

I just happened to see them while I was above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø, Norway covering the Arctic Frontiers conference. And I’ve got pictures. Stay tuned for a post about that.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts
  • OWilson

    The sunspot intensity, or lack of same, is roughly the same as it was back in 1988, some 30 years ago.

    Notably NOAA’s satellite temperature anomaly (0.26 degrees) is also roughly the same as it was back in 1988, some 30 years ago.

    Coincidence, or correlation? :)

    • Tanya Bower

      I think Svensmark’s work with CERN settled that.

      • steve knoche

        Hardly. Svensmark’s experiments still remain unproven outside the lab as any type of mechanism that effects temperature.

    • Phil Nickel

      Not correlation. Those two data points are cherry-picked. The ’88 figure is well above the trend line, while the ’18 figure is well below the trend. As can be seen in the graph, there is huge variance in the monthly measurements. Without the raw data, I can’t run a regression analysis, but there seems to be a fairly strong (higher R2) linear regression of about +0.4 degrees slope across the 40 years shown. It would be interesting to partial out the solar data from the time series to see what contribution, if any, the solar sunspot activity has to the observed monthly variance.

      • OWilson

        It is worth watching as an indicator, sunspot cycle activity versus Earth’s temperature!

        If the scientific prediction below comes true, that would make two little ice ages in a row, caused, corellated, or co-incided by Maunder Minimums :)

        “A (new) study by the University of California San Diego has claimed that by 2050, the Sun is expected to become cool. You might think “what’s the big deal,” but remember that this means the solar activities that create the heat of the Sun to sustain life on Earth may diminish. And the last time it happened was in the 17th Century, when the Thames River froze. Scientists call this the “Maunder Minimum”.

        Physicist Dan Lubin at the university and his team studied the past event and concluded that were are in for a worse case. The Sun is expected to get much dimmer than last time and, in scientific terms, it is a “grand minimum” — a time period in the 11-year solar cycle when the solar activities are at the lowest point.

        Also read: Scientists warn of ‘mini ice age’ that could hit Earth and freeze major rivers by 2030″

        • Maia

          Yeah. Somewhere I read that the heating can tip over into triggering cooling, but too vague now. Have you see this connection mentioned anywhere?
          Unnervingly, *anything can happen* seems to be the watch-phrase these days, doesn’t it?

          • OWilson

            As long as liberals, lefists, socialists, islamists, communists, can lay it at the feet of Western Capitalism they really don’t care whether it is cooling or warming.

            Global cooling means Global Warming is no strech at all for these folks!

            I have fun with it, because inluential as religious and political cults are, Mother Nature will not be brainwashed, lectured, bribed, or shamed, by humans.

          • Kurt S

            Lets just not mention the known physics of how CO2 in the atmosphere reacts on Earth to the amount of heat generated from the sun. I get the feeling OWilson, that if the CO2 equation was not addressed in the “mainstream”, that you would be all about touting the contribution of CO2 to global warming.

            A contrarian at its best.

          • OWilson

            The Earth warms and cools in natural cycles.

            Last time it warmed up civilization flourished. It’s warm now and the World is setting

            Some narcissistic folk believe they have ony 5/10 years “save the planet”, even be victim of The Sixth Great Extinction, which just happens to be in their own irrelevant puny lifetimes, out of an 4,500,000,000 evolutionary existence!

            They have been duped by cynical politicians and activists, who see these natural cycles as a chance to get in front of it and fulfill their Marxist long term goal of “wealth redistribution”.

            There are others who are happy to just make a buck out of it!

          • Deke Conine

            OWilson, I just signed up in order to be able to comment on your post above… ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON!

            This is exactly what I’ve been saying for years, you just seem to have a way with words that surpasses my meager efforts. I hope you don’t mind, but I have quoted this entry on FB as I see it as pure gold. Feel free to send me a friend request and I’ll gladly tag you as the source… cheers, and good on ya!

  • Purgesecretsociety

    Little Ice Age every 400 yrs. It’s time.

    • Charles Barnard

      Major extinction event every 100,000 years, it’s time.
      Give or take a couple lifetimes.

  • Chrissy McCabe

    Don’t worry “settled science” tells us that the sun is not responsible for our climate.

    • Charles Barnard

      No idea who you’ve been reading, because most climate and weather professionals know that the Sun is one of several major actors in long-term weather.

      So too, is our position within the galaxy, as we move between areas with many stars and areas with few stars.

      What is certain is that at this point in time, a significant player is humanity and our deforestation combined with our gaseous emissions. We’ve changed climate for much of the past 8,000 years, simply by cutting down forests and not replenishing them.

      • nik

        Deforestation is one of the major causes of climate change. Remove trees=desert=hot. Simple.

        • OWilson

          “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot”. (JM)

          What you got?

          • Sommertider

            Effin political troll. Science does not care if you understand greenhouses or not.

    • Jellric

      That makes sense. The largest source of heat for the planet has no effect on our climate.

      • Sommertider

        The sun provides quite stable heat on the surface of the planet. Been inside a greenhouse lately?

  • Richard Smith

    In the universe Dark Matter is 6 times the mass of visible matter. We know the mass of our Sun, so how much of this mass is due to Dark Matter, and what effect does it have on the operation of the sum?

    • nik

      A recent report says that astronomers have detected many more ”Super Massive” black holes, so it may be that the ”dark matter” is just billions of black holes that have absorbed all matter in their vicinity, and so are completely invisible, and the ”dark energy” is just their combined effects in our universe, which may be just one of many universes, wheeling around, like galaxies, and so-on add infinitum.

  • alex

    I don’t care about Sun spots. This is regular cycle on our star. I’m care about pole shift on our planet Earth.Pole shift will happened soon-probably this year. New north pole will be located in the middle of the China,South pole-in the middle of the Chili.No any ice age in this period of time-only very fast pole shift. Places with biggest population of the people in the world will disappear from the face of the earth in short period of time:China,India,East of Asia, south east of Russia,South part of South America-Chili,Argentina,Uruguay,Paraguay,part of Brasilia and all Rain Forrest. This time will be end of the world for some countries,for some countries will be good,because new line of equator will be in North America,Africa,Australia. Subtropical climate will be on all part of west Europe,Sahara will be not desert anymore,In Canada and USA will be tropical climate,Australia will be in tropical climate too. Life will continue.

    • OWilson

      Not necessarily!

      We can’t adjust to a quarter of a degree temperature change, so what makes you think we will survive your radical and sudden pole shift?

      We missed the golden opportunity to save the Earth, while we had those precious 5 or 10 years to “save the planet”.

      Add the predicted “Sixth Great Extinction” scheduled to take us all out, so its good bye folks.

      Time to max out those credit cards freely supplied by gullible climate deniers! :)

    • davidsstrail

      The poles aren’t going to shift you numpty.

      • alex

        numpty was your father,when meet with your mother.

        • davidsstrail

          Probably. The axis of earths rotation isn’t shifting and the magnetic poles move slowly.

  • Kamal Rajpal


ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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