Article

Solar Physics

, Volume 224, Issue 1, pp 5-19

What the Sunspot Record Tells Us About Space Climate

  • David H. HathawayAffiliated withNASA/Marshall Space Flight Center/NSSTC Email author 
  • , Robert M. WilsonAffiliated withNASA/Marshall Space Flight Center/NSSTC

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Abstract

The records concerning the number, sizes, and positions of sunspots provide a direct means of characterizing solar activity over nearly 400 years. Sunspot numbers are strongly correlated with modern measures of solar activity including: 10.7-cm radio flux, total irradiance, X-ray flares, sunspot area, the baseline level of geomagnetic activity, and the flux of galactic cosmic rays. The Group Sunspot Number provides information on 27 sunspot cycles, far more than any of the modern measures of solar activity, and enough to provide important details about long-term variations in solar activity or “Space Climate.” The sunspot record shows: 1) sunspot cycles have periods of 131± 14 months with a normal distribution; 2) sunspot cycles are asymmetric with a fast rise and slow decline; 3) the rise time from minimum to maximum decreases with cycle amplitude; 4) large amplitude cycles are preceded by short period cycles; 5) large amplitude cycles are preceded by high minima; 6) although the two hemispheres remain linked in phase, there are significant asymmetries in the activity in each hemisphere; 7) the rate at which the active latitudes drift toward the equator is anti-correlated with the cycle period; 8) the rate at which the active latitudes drift toward the equator is positively correlated with the amplitude of the cycle after the next; 9) there has been a significant secular increase in the amplitudes of the sunspot cycles since the end of the Maunder Minimum (1715); and 10) there is weak evidence for a quasi-periodic variation in the sunspot cycle amplitudes with a period of about 90 years. These characteristics indicate that the next solar cycle should have a maximum smoothed sunspot number of about 145 ± 30 in 2010 while the following cycle should have a maximum of about 70 ± 30 in 2023.