Sun begins Solar Cycle 24

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

First official sunspot belonging to the new Solar Cycle 24.
Image: NOAA.

The first sunspot marking a new solar cycle has been identified, physicists at the NOAA announced on January 4. This sunspot is a precursor for the normal increase in activity which takes place during the 11-year solar cycle.

"This sunspot is like the first robin of spring. In this case, it’s an early omen of solar storms that will gradually increase over the next few years," said solar physicist Douglas Biesecker of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center.

The new sunspot, identified as #10,981, is the latest visible spot to appear since NOAA began numbering them on January 5, 1972. Its high-latitude location at 27 degrees North, and its negative polarity leading to the right in the Northern Hemisphere are clear-cut signs of a new solar cycle, according to NOAA experts. The first active regions and sunspots of a new solar cycle can emerge at high latitudes while those from the previous cycle continue to form closer to the equator.

The sunspot has been reported by several observatories, confirming this is the first spot which developed into a visible sunspot group. reported that it produced auroras on Jan. 5th. "It was a nice flowing display that persisted for an hour and a half," reports photographer Calvin Hall of Palmer, Alaska.

A sunspot is an area of highly organized magnetic activity on the surface of the sun. The new 11-year cycle is expected to build gradually, with the number of sunspots and solar storms reaching a maximum by 2011 or 2012, though devastating storms can occur at any time.