Hurry up if you still want to see Aurora Borealis – current solar cycle declining, new maximum not until >2023

It’s been a while since we last paid attention to the forecasts of Sunspot Cycle 24. So here’s an update – based on NASA Marshall Space Flight Center observations and forecasts. Cause there is news!

NASA solar cycle forecast
Tad dramatic this graph – but that’s how the folks at NASA prefer it themselves. Clearly shown is that the current solar maximum (Sunspot Cycle 24) is slowly coming to a close – and that the latest three maxima show a declining trend. Big question now is will we have a new maximum (Sunspot Cycle 25, from somewhere 2023 onwards – or will we have a silent Sun for some time longer, a ‘grand minimum’. This year could be the last Aurora year in a pretty long while…

The current sunspot maximum (number 24 – meaning the 24th cycle since counting started in 1755) is a relatively weak one. It first peaked to a sunspot number of 98.3 in March of 2012 and later to 116.4 in April 2014. As the graph illustrates the two previous sunspot cycles were twice as strong.

This solar cycle decline helps to disprove solar hypotheses stating that the witnessed temperature rise on Earth would be caused to extra solar activity – if solar played any significant role over the last couple of decades, it should have manifested a net cooling trend.

Various sources suggest we might enter a new Grand Solar Minimum in the coming decades – although its climatic effects (largely local European/North Atlantic phenomena) are often exaggerated.

Anyway – if you have hopes to see the Aurora Borealis (or its southern hemisphere counterpart Aurora Australis) ‘polar lights’ – you should be in a bit of a hurry. Once the solar maximum ends the Aurora strength will be greatly diminished, and confined to Arctic/Antarctic regions only.

Perhaps 2016 will be the last Aurora year in a long while…

If we do a quick and dirty extrapolation of that NASA graph we can predict that there won’t be any significant fireworks at least until 2023 – when sunspot cycle 25 should pick up – if the Sun indeed does not decide to hibernate a bit longer this time – then you might need to wait till the end of the century for a strong Aurora to return. In 2016 though you polar light enthusiasts are still fine… (But please try skis – or YouTube – and don’t book any flights for this.)

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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