Solar minimum

Solar minimum image

Main article: Solar cycle Three recent solar cycles

Solar minimum is the period of least solar activity in the 11-year solar cycle of the Sun. During this time, sunspot and solar flare activity diminishes, and often does not occur for days at a time. The date of the minimum is described by a smoothed average over 12 months of sunspot activity, so identifying the date of the solar minimum usually can only happen 6 months after the minimum takes place.

Solar minimum is contrasted with the solar maximum, when hundreds of sunspots may occur.

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Solar minimum and solar maximum

Solar minima and maxima are the two extremes of the Sun's 11-year and 400-year activity cycle. At a maximum, the Sun is peppered with sunspots, solar flares erupt, and the Sun hurls billion-ton clouds of electrified gas into space. Sky watchers may see more auroras, and space agencies must monitor radiation storms for astronaut protection. Power outages, satellite malfunctions, communication disruptions, and GPS receiver malfunctions are just a few of the things that can happen during a solar maximum.

At a solar minimum, there are fewer sunspots and solar flares subside. Sometimes, days or weeks go by without a spot.

Predicting solar minimum cycles

Their non-linear character makes predictions of solar activity very difficult. The solar minimum is characterized by a period of decreased solar activity with few, if any, sunspots. Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) also developed a computer model of solar dynamics (Solar dynamo) for more accurate predictions and have confidence in the forecast based upon a series of test runs with the newly developed model simulating the strength of the past eight solar cycles with more than 98% accuracy. In hindsight the prediction proved to be wildly inaccurate and not representative of the observed sunspot numbers.

During 2008–09 NASA scientists noted that the Sun is undergoing a "deep solar minimum," stating: "There were no sunspots observed on 266 of 366 days (73%). Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008. Sunspot counts for 2009 dropped even lower. As of September 14, 2009 there were no sunspots on 206 of the year's 257 days (80%). Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center came to the following conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum." His statement was confirmed by other specialists in the field. "This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agreed sunspot expert David Hathaway of the National Space Science and Technology Center NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center....read more

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