That 2008 consensus scientific prediction certainly has proven to be well off the mark and dramatically incorrect.
As can be see in the picture above, once again today, there are no sunspots, and the face of the sun is blank. In fact, a blank sun is the same picture that has been seen by astronomers for over 200 days during this year already. The number of days without a sunspot now makes 2008, the fifth blankest year in the last century and there is still plenty of time left in the year to move toward a record and be on top.
So, what does this lack of sunspot activity on the sun really mean? The answer is still unknown but there is one thing that we do now know. We know that there was only one scientific paper that predicted this current trend in sunspot activity before it all began. However, it was denied publication nearly three years ago.
The paper was released during an active sun in 2005. It was laughed at in the scientific community, never published, rejected by scientific journals, and eventually dismissed as being too controversial.
This controversial paper was based on the research of a pair of astronomers from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) at Kitt Peak in Tucson, Arizona, William Livingston and Matthew Penn.
The researchers looked at minute spectroscopic and magnetic changes in the sun by analyzing data from sunspot observations over a 15-year period from 1990 to 2005. In total, over 1000 sunspots were measured, noting their umbral brightness, temperature and magnetic field strength.
Livingston and Penn discovered that the sunspot umbral magnetic field was decreasing rapidly from nearly 3000 Gauss in the late 1990’s to nearly 2000 Gauss in 2005. Projecting the current trend to continue until 2015, the umbral magnetic field strength would hit 1500 Gauss. At that point, the sunspot structure would not be maintained since no umbral darkening could be observed.
So, if the umbral magnetic field continued to decrease, the Sun would continue to become less active over time until the 11-year solar cycle would effectively be “put on hold” in the year 2015. It would remain on hold until the unknown mechanism driving the process decided to start up again. The result is that in 2015 there would be no visable sunspots.
The conclusion of their research was certainly startling and it is also the title of their work: “Sunspots may vanish by 2015". It should be noted that their paper only considers data from 15 years worth of sunspots, that’s only just a little more than one cycle. Data over several sunspot cycles could certainly be seen as more conclusive.
However, what if they are proven correct and we are about to enter a sunspot minimum with the regular eleven year sunspot cycle on hold in just a few years time? It has happened before in the Maunder and Dalton Minimums, and if sunspot history is a guide, much colder times for this planet would be ahead.
One thing seems certain. If the current lack of sunspot activity becomes a continuing trend, nobody will be laughing at the scientific research in the controversial paper of Livingston and Penn.