After a long delay, the current sunspot cycle has reached its peak.
According to Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and key member of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel, the long awaited peak of the current solar cycle has finally arrived.
The Sun undergoes an 11-year cycle, during which the number of sunspots climbs to a peak before settling down for solar minimum. But not all solar maximums are created equal — even the cycle’s duration can vary from nine to fourteen years. The relative quiet of the current cycle (cycle 24) is likely a feature of normal, long-term variations.
How do we know that the peak has finally arrived? There are a number of indicators. As Pesnell summarizes, “The sun’s magnetic field has flipped; we are starting to see the development of long coronal holes; and, oh yes, sunspot counts are cresting.”
The take-home message from this is that from now on, the number of sunspots will gradually start to decrease. So if you have a telescope equipped with a safe solar filter (and only then), there’s no time like the present to check in on ‘ol Sol.
Here is a NASA video discussing the current solar maximum, the so-called solar Mini-Max: