The wind down of Solar Cycle 24

solar-cycle-sunspot-numberThe current Solar Cycle has proved to be a bit disappointing for amateur operators and will descend to a minimum within the next 2 to 4 years.   We are already seeing dead bands in most daily forecasts.  But how does our current cycle compare to earlier cycles?

The following diagram shows peak sunspots from all observed solar cycles since the 1600’s when sunspots were first recorded by astronomers.

It turns out that cycle 24 is not particularly unusual in the scheme of things!


And for an even longer perspective …

The last 10,000 years of sunspots!
The last 12,000 years of sunspots!

So what will happen in the next cycle (cycle 25)?

You will find a number of predictions online.    Because of the peak sunspot number in our current cycle there seems to be a growing consensus that we are unlikely to see the really nasty outcome of a second “Maunder minimum” (a period of almost 70 years with virtually no sunspots at all).   It is likely, however, that we are exiting from the “Grand Maximum” period.   We may well be entering a regular period that will look a bit like the period from 1724 to 1924 (a whole two centuries in duration!) in which sunspots are OK, but not good enough to make the record books.   The result is that we can expect the next cycle to be somewhat similar to Cycle 24.

Sorry to bring you the bad news!   Let’s hope one of those mid  to late 20th Century sunspot highs comes again in our lifetimes!