J. Space Weather Space Clim.
Volume 2, 2012
|Number of page(s)||9|
|Published online||25 June 2012|
Are the sunspots really vanishing?
Anomalies in solar cycle 23 and implications for long-term models and proxies
SIDC – Royal Observatory of Belgium, 3 avenue Circulaire, 1180 Bruxelles, Belgium
* corresponding author: e-mail: email@example.com
Accepted: 9 June 2012
Context: The elapsed solar cycle (23) ended with an exceptionally long period of low activity and with unprecedented low levels for various series of solar irradiance and particle flux measurements. This unpredicted evolution of solar activity raised multiple questions about a future decline of the solar cycles and launched a quest for precursor signs of this possible deep solar transition over the last decade.
Aim: We present here a review and overall interpretation of most current diagnostics of solar cycle 23, including the recent disagreements that appeared among solar reference indices and standard solar-based geo-indices, the indication of a changed pattern of internal torsional waves (helioseismology) or the announced fading and magnetic weakening of sunspots.
Methods: Based on a statistical analysis of detailed sunspot properties over the last 24 years, we complete the picture with new evidence of a strong global deficit of the smallest sunspots starting around 2000, in order to answer the question: are all sunspots about to disappear?
Results: This global scale-dependent change in sunspot properties is confirmed to be real and not due to uncontrolled biases in some of the indices. It can also explain the recent discrepancies between solar indices by their different sensitivities to small and weak magnetic elements (small spots). The International Sunspot Index Ri, based on unweighted sunspot counts, proved to be particularly sensitive to this particular small-scale solar evolution.
Conclusions: Our results and interpretation show the necessity to look backwards in time, more than 80 years ago. Indeed, the Sun seems to be actually returning to a past and hardly explored activity regime ending before the 1955–1995 Grand Maximum, which probably biased our current space-age view of solar activity.
Key words: Sun / solar cycle / sunspots / solar activity / space climate
© Owned by the authors, Published by EDP Sciences 2012
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