Researchers have obtained data that show fading sunspots, a missing jetstream, and weakening magnetic activity near the sun’s poles may be signaling the start of a new period of reduced solar activity.
The studies were carried out by scientists from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
Even though we are transitioning toward the solar maximum in our current sunspot cycle, Cycle 24, these findings indicate that the upcoming 11-year solar sunspot cycle, Cycle 25, will be diminished or possibly completely absent.
"This is highly unusual and unexpected," said Frank Hill, an associate director at NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network, in a press release. "But the fact that three completely different views of the sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation."
"We expected to see the start of the zonal flow for Cycle 25 by now, but we see no sign of it," Hill added. "This indicates that the start of Cycle 25 may be delayed to 2021 or 2022, or may not happen at all."
Normally, the sun has a 22-year-long magnetic interval, and every 11 years when the poles reverse, the amount of solar activity, such as sunspots, rises and then falls accordingly.
In another study, using Arizona’s McMath-Pierce Telescope, Matt Penn and William Livingston determined that there would be a gradual weakening of the sun’s magnetic field eruptions when entering sunspot Cycle 25, ie very few or perhaps no sunspots will be formed.
Also, Richard Altrock from the NSO’s Sunspot program found movement of magnetic activity towards the poles is slowing down. He used 40 years’ worth of observation data from NSO’s coronagraphic telescope, and a photometer for mapping iron in temperatures up to 2 million degrees Celsius.
"A key thing to understand is that those wonderful, delicate coronal features are actually powerful, robust magnetic structures rooted in the interior of the sun," Altrock said in the release. "Changes we see in the corona reflect changes deep inside the sun."
These three investigations all seem to indicate that the sunspot cycle will either slow down gradually, or will shut down down for some time.
"If we are right, this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades," Hill concluded. "That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate."