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Backward Sunspot Heralds Next Solar Cycle 73

GoramFrackinWacko writes "A backward sunspot chronicled on July 31st heralds the next solar cycle, and it looks to be a big one! From the article: 'Satellite operators and NASA mission planners are bracing for this next solar cycle because it is expected to be exceptionally stormy, perhaps the stormiest in decades. Sunspots and solar flares will return in abundance, producing bright auroras on Earth and dangerous proton storms in space.'"
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Backward Sunspot Heralds Next Solar Cycle

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  • wishing for news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yagu ( 721525 ) * <yayagu@gmail . c om> on Thursday August 17, 2006 @09:31AM (#15926532) Journal

    This story reminds me of the recent "predictions" of a potentially devastating hurricane season with greater than average frequency hurricanes and more of these hurricanes being Category 5 (the strongest hurricane defined). On what basis?

    On the buzz around global warming and its effect on hurricanes among other things, and the recent "example" season of a record-breaking number of hurricanes. So, naturally the prediction for this season was "lots of big hurricanes". I'm not sure, but so far I don't recall any hurricanes well into the season, but if you watch the Weather Channel, they're almost praying for some... The recent "tracking" of Chris showed almost despondent correspondents (pretending to show relief at Chris' dissipation) when Chris fizzled.

    Similarly with sun spots, sun cycles and predictable sun cycle behaviors. We know more than ever about the sun, but the more we know the less we know how to predict what it's going to do. This is an interesting story in that stories about the sun and sun spots are inherently interesting (in my opinion). But, from the article: Satellite operators and NASA mission planners are bracing for this next solar cycle because it is expected to be exceptionally stormy, perhaps the stormiest in decades.... That is purely conjecture -- no more likely to be correct than not. Especially when considering the builtin caveat from the article:

    First, the sunspot lasted only three hours. Typically, sunspots last days, weeks or even months. Three hours is fleeting in the extreme. "It came and went so fast, it was not given an official sunspot number," says Hathaway. The astronomers who number sunspots didn't think it worthy!

    Second, the latitude of the spot is suspicious. New-cycle sunspots almost always pop up at mid-latitudes, around 30o N or 30o S. The backward sunspot popped up at 13o S. "That's strange."

    Makes for good news though -- something scary to be afraid of.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Glad to hear a voice of reason. The media love to hype potential stories for maximum effect.

      If the writeup is correct, however, we could get some awesome Northern Lights. The negative repercussions would most likely be limited to fleeting disruptions in some radio traffic. Some phone calls and television feeds may have momentary issues, but even at its worst I doubt all of the doomsday predictions that claim we will arrive back at the stone age from having everything in orbit nuked.

      Above all you must

      • ... but even at its worst I doubt all of the doomsday predictions that claim we will arrive back at the stone age from having everything in orbit nuked.

        I agree, this is all speculation, but there is another thing to consider. Bare in mind how much (still dark) fiber got laid during the 90s tech boom. I expect having all the satellites blown/fried from orbit would be an inconvenience (albeit a major one) more than a disaster of epic proportions. Navigation for trans-oceanic plans/ships would probably suffe

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        If the writeup is correct, however, we could get some awesome Northern Lights. The negative repercussions would most likely be limited to fleeting disruptions in some radio traffic. Some phone calls and television feeds may have momentary issues, but even at its worst I doubt all of the doomsday predictions that claim we will arrive back at the stone age from having everything in orbit nuked.

        Well, not everything will be nuked - only the less protected satellites (either by design, or through age and/or col

    • by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @09:48AM (#15926677)
      This story reminds me of the recent "predictions" of a potentially devastating hurricane season with greater than average frequency hurricanes and more of these hurricanes being Category 5 (the strongest hurricane defined). On what basis?
      Science. NOAA's instruments. Historical patterns. New data. In other words, our most educated guess.

      Sure they're wrong sometimes, but the fact that the science is imperfect does not warrant discounting these observations altogether.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bluprint ( 557000 )
        but the fact that the science is imperfect does not warrant discounting these observations altogether.

        But to the parent's point, it may indeed warrant discounting predictions.
        • More importantly, we can start queing the "It's bacause of all those SUV's in America". I'm not sure how, but surely someone will be able to find a way to link it...
    • Re:wishing for news (Score:5, Informative)

      by timster ( 32400 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @09:54AM (#15926716)
      Inside the article there is a link to an article about why they are planning for a more intense solar cycle. It's not "purely conjecture".

      http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/10mar_stor mwarning.htm [nasa.gov]
    • by yorgo ( 595005 )
      Shucks. If we'd only stopped learning years ago, we could predict *exactly* "what it's going to do".
    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @10:12AM (#15926869) Journal
      ... but if you watch the Weather Channel, they're almost praying for some... The recent "tracking" of Chris showed almost despondent correspondents (pretending to show relief at Chris' dissipation) when Chris fizzled.
      Hurricanes are exciting, especially to people who study them. Weather correspondents make a living based on phenomena like hurricanes -- so why wouldn't they be disappointed?

      Also, dire predictions boost ratings and sell airtime. This is why the chance of snowfall is always hyped in the winter, etc.

      Sure, thanks for pointing out that some people in all fields have a predilection for sensationalism -- but anyone who doesn't take all such predictions with a grain of salt needs some critical thinking skills.

      I'm not sure, but so far I don't recall any hurricanes well into the season
      Just as anecdotal evidence is not proof of something, anecdotal evidence is also not proof that something is false. We have an imperfect understanding of weather, and while all the conditions indicate that something is likely, it does not mean that something will happen. Also, note that the hurricane estimates for this season were revised downward based upon new, more current, readings in early August.

      One more thing to note -- hurricane season isn't in full-swing until mid-August (now). A light June/July may be insignificant compared to what happens during peak season, Aug-Oct. Related to that, maybe a lack of early hurricanes bodes poorly for the rest of the season -- there is a lot of energy yet to be dissipated.

      • by iocat ( 572367 )
        Weather porn has gotten out of hand in the US. I was basically surprised we didn't see any WC reporters actually orgasm when Katrina hit New Orleans.
    • Hey... it hit 85 degrees in the midwest today - 85 degrees in AUGUST for Christ's sake!! - isn't that enough proof that global warming is reality and we should shutdown all the coal fired power plants NOW!!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by KlomDark ( 6370 )
        What?? 85 degrees? That's actually cool for August. Unless you're talking about some Midwest other than the one I live in (Nebraska), where we're usually floating near 100 this time of the year. We had a couple of 104 degree days in late July, but other than that, it's a cool day.

        Also, here in Omaha, we're like 4 inches above normal rainfall. There have been heavy rains here around 7 of the last 14 days.

        Not that I don't think we should get away from the coal-fired plants, as they put a lot more crap (includ
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Shaper_pmp ( 825142 )

      This story reminds me of the recent "predictions" of a potentially devastating hurricane season with greater than average frequency hurricanes and more of these hurricanes being Category 5 (the strongest hurricane defined). On what basis?

      Well, how about historical trends, climate modelling, the NOAA... need I go on?

      On the buzz around global warming and its effect on hurricanes among other things, and the recent "example" season of a record-breaking number of hurricanes. So, naturally the prediction for this

    • Well, you may wish to read up on Dr. Grey's site. He is the gentleman who was able to start the hurricane prediction by noticing a tie to just a few indicators. First off, overall, he has quite a few good years of predicting the storms. 2'nd, he believes that we will see more intense hurricanes. 3'rd, he does NOT believe that it will occur due to global warming, just due to cycles. Finally, a season that has started like this is a bit worrisome, because it does not match predictions that have been rather ac
    • Well, technically not hurricanes, but typhoons, which are hurricanes hiding out in the western Pacific. China has been hit with a record-breaking number (8), including some serious monsters.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Griffinart ( 957548 )
        8 named storms so far in the Pacific. By this time last year there had been 8 named storms as well. 7 by this time next week in 2004, 10 named storms by the end of august 2003, 8 by the end of august 2002. Hardly anything more frequent that average. In the Atlantic, on the other hand, we've had 3 named storms so far, none were hurricanes, and they think its going to remain quiet for the next couple of weeks. By then end of August last year we had 12 named storms including Katrina. The Atlantic averages
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by fdiskne1 ( 219834 )

          At this years rate, we're looking at a very quiet year, the global amount of storms will still be significantly down from average.

          And they will blame the lack of storms on the climate change brought about by global warming.

        • Global warming predictions are not for more storms but for more intense storms. The typhoons this year include the strongest storm ever to enter the South China Sea in May (Chanchu), the highest hourly rainfall ever to hit the Hong Kong Observatory (the monsoon behind Bilis), and the strongest storm to hit China in 50 years (Saomai).
    • Does anybody know if the decrease in the strength of the Earth's magentic field is being studied in regards to global warming? We're due for a flip in the not to distant future and IIRC it's been decreasing for about 150 years. As it keeps radiation from hitting the Earth, one might consider that as it decreases more radiation hits the Earth, causing some degree of increased energy input. One doesn't hear too much about this in the popular science press.
  • Cool (Score:3, Funny)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @09:32AM (#15926546) Homepage
    I, for one, welcome our thermonuclear neighbor's unruliness. (The last time it acted up, we got to see the aurora here in Virginia -- which is VERY rare at this latitude!)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    somewhere out there, democrat/republican thinktanks are thinking of ways to tweak this to say it proves/debunks that global warming exists.
    • somewhere out there, democrat/republican thinktanks are thinking of ways to tweak this to say it proves/debunks that global warming exists.

      This will be the catalyst for them to start worrying about 'solar warming'. "Cycles? My fellow Americans, do not believe that for a second. The sun is a violent, chaotic planet and it must be cooled or removed from our universe. The more that yellow thing in our atmosphere is allowed to shine, the worse our global warming will be."

  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @09:35AM (#15926569) Homepage Journal
    ..Sun ANGRY! Sun KILL!!
  • Uh oh (Score:2, Funny)

    by LSD-OBS ( 183415 )
    it is expected to be exceptionally stormy, perhaps the stormiest in decades

    OMG, they were right - pollution & global warming are destroying the sun! :)
    • by SnowZero ( 92219 )
      Can't say the Sierra Club (and Al Gore) didn't warn you.

      Maybe superman shouldn't have thrown all those nuclear weapons at the sun in the late 1980's...
  • Waiting (Score:2, Funny)

    by Jon Luckey ( 7563 )
    Just waiting for someone to blame global warming for this reverse sun spot.
    • Nah, it's a _reverse_ sunspot. It gets credit if the temperatures go down.
    • It's god damned terrorists, I tell you. They're trying to take out all our satellite communications. How better to strike at the heart of Americans than to deprive them of their DirecTV, their Dish, they're Cable TV*. Oh, this is truly despicable.

      We must hunt them down and stop them from destroying our way of life. Please, if you won't think of the children, think of the parents who will have no TV to use as a babysitter 10 hours a day. Tragedy, I tell you.

      *preemptive troll clarification: Yes, much of the
      • It's god damned terrorists, I tell you. They're trying to take out all our satellite communications. How better to strike at the heart of Americans than to deprive them of their DirecTV, their Dish, they're Cable TV*. Oh, this is truly despicable.
        Honestly, I know cable TV isn't popular with some people. But is that any reason to call Cable TV terrorists?
        • Doh! Got me. I was going somwhere else with that sentence when I thought to add cable tv. Honest...I'm usually more careful with that sort of stuff.

          And, for the record, YES, they are terrorists. I used to cower in the corner every month when the bill came.
  • When will we learn to take care of our environment?!
    • sunspots are actually cool points on the surface of the sun, hence them being comparatively dark
  • What? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @10:19AM (#15926920) Journal
    Trivia: The coordinates of the July 31st sunspot were 65 W, 13 S. It if had popped up at those coordinates on Earth, it would have been in Bolivia, making it a "South American" sunspot.
    Seeing that longitudinal zero is completely arbitrary (both for Earth and Sol), I find this statement to be laughable.

    If this sunspot had popped up at those coordinates on Earth, I think we'd actually all be dead, or at least severely discomforted.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by harrkev ( 623093 )
      Seeing that longitudinal zero is completely arbitrary (both for Earth and Sol)
      At least for earth, there is a physical stop that you can point your finger at and say "that is longitude zero". For the sun, how the heck do you measure longitude on a sphere with no permanent features?
      • by Sabalon ( 1684 )
        And I can then say "But no...I'm french. Longitude Zero is not where you are pointing. Longitude zero is over here. No go away or I shall taunt you a second time."
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Red Flayer ( 890720 )

        For the sun, how the heck do you measure longitude on a sphere with no permanent features?

        No permanent features -- but there are periodic relative positions than can be used to assign longitude. The easiest one, of course, would be the relative position of the Earth. Since we know the Earth's orbit, we can just use trig, along with the date and time, to determine longitude on the sun.

        Yes, it's not direct observation, but it works -- and it's no less arbitrary that Greenwich being Earth longitude zero.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    There are a number of sunspot predictions for cycle 24 that call for the weakest (ie. least stormy) sunspot cycle in 100 years. The method predicting a stromy cycle 24 is a new theory and has only been correlated against past cycles. It's predictive value hasn't been demonstrated yet. On the other hand, the precursor method has been used for at least one cycle already. Only time will tell. One of the latest reports is at the address below:

    http://www.leif.org/research/Polar%20Fields%20and% 20Cycle%2024 [leif.org]
  • I'd never heard of a "backwards" sunspot before, but after RingTFA I understood that; that the sun's cycle is caused by flipping polarities. I thought this was very interesting.

    What I didn't get was, how do they KNOW the polarity of the sunspot? There shouldn't be a pattern difference between the two poles, should there? They ought to be equal. Are they using a special sensor on one of the solar satellites? How would you possibly detect the magnetic polarity of even so large a phenomenon from a distanc
    • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @11:35AM (#15927474) Journal
      You can 'see' polarity of sunspots almost directly. In fact, here [stanford.edu] are some pictures. You can read the strength of the magnetic field by looking how the energy levels of atoms are modified. As an electron falls from one level to another it emits electromagnetic radiation with an energy corresponding to the difference. In particular, certain configurations of atoms which are normally indistinguishable, because the difference between them is simply that electron spins have been flipped, become distinct in the presence of magnetic fields, because a magentic field causes one or other energy level to be 'preferred'. This modifies the frequencies of the emitted radiation which we can then observe. This is known as Zeeman splitting. Additionally, we can read off the polarity of the fields from the polarisation of the radiation.
  • great news! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scharkalvin ( 72228 ) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @11:25AM (#15927404) Homepage
    Maybe 10 meters will open up for DX again.
  • Anyone else remember all the Slashdot/science stories posted in the last several years? "Large solar storms were imminent and society was at risk, since the storm's radiation would wipe out the computers/circuits/memory/whatever." I remember quite a few, and I would wait and never hear the ramifications of these celestially devastating events. So, Anyone have any more insight into the results, or was this just another case of the news media screaming, "The sky is falling!"?
  • So what part of my lifestyle must I sacrifice in the attempt to prevent this phenomena?
  • Global Warming? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It'll be fun to watch the environmentalist wackos find a way to blame this on the CO2 emmissions from the US. Maybe global warming can affect the Sun in some sort of cosmic "feedback loop".
  • Uh Oh, Looks like Solar System Warming is real after all.
  • If it wasn't for Dubya and all of his oil-thirsty friends, there wouldn't be an increase in solar activity. If we'd signed Kyoto we could stop this from happening and return the Sun to normal!

    Bad humans!

    -------------

    (If it wasn't obvious, that was supposed to be funny).
    • by Geoff ( 968 )
      Yeah, that was my reaction to this as well. How long until some high-profile Democrat makes a statement not too far from this?
  • ... hate our freedoms?

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