Solar Minimum - Predicting Solar Minimum Cycles

Predicting Solar Minimum Cycles

Predicting solar activity is very difficult because solar activity is a non-linear phenomenon and hence cannot be predicted very easily. Solar minimum is characterized by a period of minimum solar activity with few, if any, sunspots. Generally, this is the safest time for astronauts to do their missions due to an associated decrease in solar radiation. Three NASA scientists were better able to predict solar cycles (solar minimums and solar maximums) using a simple function with four parameters, which then led the ability to discover the duration of these solar cycles. 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.

During 2008-2009 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%). It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the National Space Science and Technology Center NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center. It's a natural part of the sunspot cycle, discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Schwabe in the mid-19th century. A "clockwork pattern" that has held true for more than 200 years.

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