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Sunspot cycle on pace to be weakest event in 100 years

Thu., Nov. 1, 2012

As we get closer to the expected peak of new solar maximum in early 2013, it looks like this cycle will not be strong, especially when compared with the one in the late 1990s, when global temperatures peaked.

Over the past six months, the number of sunspots – storms on the sun – have ranged between 50 and 120 per day. There were a few days last summer when there were 150 or more sunspots.

There are about 11 years between each solar maximum, with a corresponding low in between. From 2007 to 2009, there were many days when there were no sunspots. By early 2013, the sun is expected to see its highest number of sunspots as this current cycle reaches its peak.

Although this cycle has not been strong, the sun has set off a number of huge explosions that sent a wave of particles toward the Earth. In October, the northern lights were seen in our area. As we get toward January and February, we’ll probably see more light shows across the higher latitudes.

Some computer models suggest that solar activity will rise to more than 100 sunspots a day in early to mid-November and then drop down a bit. NASA’s latest prediction continues to have a daily average of 50 to 60 sunspots, making this the smallest sunspot maxima cycle in about 100 years.

Even with overall low sunspot numbers, a strong event could cause trillions of dollars worth of damage to satellites, power grids and home electronics. In 1989, a solar storm was strong enough to shut down a power plant in Canada.

During the peak of the last solar maximum in the late 1990s, we were seeing 200 to 300 solar storms each day, compared to a recent average of 50 to 75.

At this point, it’s very unlikely that we’ll see sunspot numbers similar to the ones back in the late 1990s, but anything is possible between now and the peak of this cycle in late 2012 or early 2013.

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