Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Controversial Paper Of Livingston And Penn

I thought that I would check on the activity of the sun today. After all, in March, many prominent scientists were worried that Solar Cycle 24 would be so active by now that our entire communications system would be disrupted.

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.


David said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post on “The Controversial Paper of Livingston and Penn.” It seems there are many of us following this dearth of sunspots in the last dozen or so months while drawing many different conclusions. It was especially thoughtful of you to post a link to the paper of Livingston and Penn as many writers are referring to it but no links.

I have been unable to find other than rumor that this paper was laughed at and ridiculed. After reading it and seeing the 15 year or so cycle they worked on, and that much of their speculation involved relative amounts of Fe, OH and variation in measurement of Gaussian fields it seems a considerable leap to “sunspot cessation in 2015. The connection between causation and correlation does not seem to be established. While it is interesting that current observations support a greatly diminished level of sunspot activity there is not enough data on solar mechanics or stellar evolution to tie these few variables together statistically, draw a straight line and assume their conclusion. This is not to mention the huge leaps to climate connection on a geologically and atmospherically complex planet 93,000,000 miles away.

Livingston and Penn deserve credit for careful analysis and discovery, but the scientific community must exercise enormous restraint when conclusions are based on very limited data or risk loss of credibility and a degeneration of careful study so typical of the politically motivated impoverished science of the past 8 years and longer. No one should be singled out for ridicule because they have proposed a non-traditional conclusion and all of us are obligated to careful discipline and questioning of any conclusions.

Again, thanks for an even handed approach to this subject and for offering what few others have done… the original research. I will continue to follow your site because it offers many observations and may you do as well as you present them as you did the conclusions of the potentially important work of the NSO.

Matt Penn said...

The paper was rejected by Nature, but published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2006, v649, L45. Since that time new observations have shown that infrared sunspot magnetic field strenghts appear to follow the same linear extrapolation used in 2006. Other data sets show different behavior, as in Penn and MacDonald, ApJ 2007, v662 L123.

Term Papers said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

Geoff Sharp said...

While acknowledging the fine work performed by Livingston & Penn there are serious concerns on the method of data collection. There are two streams of data which use different methods. Data recorded before cycle 23 max was sparse and also ONLY included large spots. After cycle max all specks and spots are measured on the random viewing days, thus adding in the weaker speck values that did not get recorded before cycle 23 max, this must reduce the overall readings. More specks = lower readings. I suspect if the same measuring practice employed by L&P after cycle 23 max was used from 1996 to 2001 it would show the magnetic strength following the normal solar cycle.

L&P during 2010( up to June)have only measured one substantial group thus making it difficult to establish the recent trend of cycle 24.

I have used a simple method of measuring contrast of every cycle 24 spot above a minimum threshold and the trend of magnetic strength is currently heading up.

My research can be found at

Anonymous said...

Rising quakes - volcanic activity – storms, as happened in 1815 and during most of the Little Ice Age...

If altruist rescuers coordinate, humankind may revive truce and mutual-aid to
AVERT next ice age!

We immediately must test the proposal to AVERT volcanic winter through crater-caps/grids hold by zeppelins over extra active volcanoes to prevent ash ejection to the stratosphere: the begining of every ice age.
OPEN PUBLIC DIALOGUE, DECENTRALIZATION and GLOBAL AFFORESTATIONS offer food and wood, promote mutual-aid and prevent cannibalism.
Arrogant enemies of Autarky, deforestating pharaos, Romans, Mayas, Aztecs, Incas etc COLLAPSED because of their babylons’ famine during volcanic winters.