What’s special about this latest dip is that the sun is having trouble starting the next solar cycle. The sun began to calm down in late 2007, so no one expected many sunspots in 2008. But computer models predicted that when the spots did return, they would do so in force. Hathaway was reported as thinking the next solar cycle would be a “doozy”: more sunspots, more solar storms and more energy blasted into space. Others predicted that it would be the most active solar cycle on record. The trouble was, no one told the sun.
The first sign that the prediction was wrong came when 2008 turned out to be even calmer than expected. That year, the sun was spot-free 73 per cent of the time, an extreme dip even for a solar minimum. Only the minimum of 1913 was more pronounced, with 85 per cent of that year clear.
As 2009 arrived, solar physicists looked for some action. They didn’t get it. The sun continued to languish until mid-December, when the largest group of sunspots to emerge for several years appeared. Finally, a return to normal? Not really.
Even with the solar cycle finally under way again, the number of sunspots has so far been well below expectations. Something appears to have changed inside the sun, something the models did not predict. But what?
Of course, Anthony Watt has been pointing this out for over two years, even pointing to a discontinuity in the Geomagnetic Average Planetary Index as one sign.
The people who model the sun, and failed, are not bad people. It is an excercise worth attempting. It turns out we just don’t know enough about the sun to accurately model its behavior. Models are only as good as our understanding of the natural processes. Something to think about with climate models.