Oregon Astronomy Expert: Zero Sun Spots a Mystery
(Portland, Oregon) – Sunday (no pun intended) is now the fifth day in a row with little to no sun spot activity on the surface of the sun, something that has scientists scratching their heads.
Among those watching what has been dubbed the “All Quiet” event is Jim Todd, planetarium manager at Portland's OMSI, saying this has been the buzz in the science world. There was at least one day where there were absolutely no sun spots.
“On July 17th, for the first time in nearly three years, the sunspot number dropped to zero,” Todd said.
Even more mysteriously, the sun is going through a maximum period in its cycle where sun spot activity is up, called a Solar Max. (Above: sunsets on the Oregon coast will be no different).
“Before July 17, 2014, the previous spotless day was August 14, 2011, a gap of nearly 3 years,” Todd said. “What happened then provides context for what is happening today. Overall, 2011 was a year of relatively high solar activity with multiple X-flares; the spotless sun was just a temporary intermission. 2014 will probably be remembered the same way.”
Two small spots were discovered in the last few days, interrupting the zero activity, but Todd said they are very weak.
“Neither of these small spots has the kind of complex magnetic field that harbors energy for strong flares,” Todd said. “The quiet is therefore expected to continue through the weekend.”
Todd said as new sunspots emerge and grow, the Solar Max of 2014 will pick up where it left off a couple weeks ago when sunspots were abundant. However, because no one can predict the solar cycle, he added this "All Quiet Event" is worth monitoring. (Above: Cannon Beach, on the north Oregon coast).
The Los Angeles Times is reporting Spaceweather.com expert Tony Phillips as saying “it's weird, but not super weird.” Phillips and other scientists have noted this is all proof that physicists still don't know much about the sun, so determining whether this is normal or not isn't possible.
Scientists also note this has been a rather lackluster maximum period for the sun.
Sun Spots are caused by extremely concentrated magnetic fields on the surface of the sun. They are slightly cooler, thus the darker appearance. When the magnetic fields are numerous, they can get tangled and twisted together, causing a massive energy buildup which results in solar flares.
Below: transit of Venus across the sun, taken from Beaverton, Oregon.
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