The Met Office press office have just published a blog about the so-called L5 mission to launch a spacecraft to gather new observations of the sun that is now underway (fig 1 & 2). Apparently the mission is championed by the UK Space Agency, and will give the Met Office an opportunity to improve space weather forecasting. Who knows in the future they might even start giving each major coronal mass ejection a name like we do for storms on earth!
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great idea, and I wish them every success in their endeavour, but I’ve never been an advocate of the Met Office’s involvement in ‘space weather’, as far as I can see their raison d’être is to provide weather forecasts down here on Earth rather than in space, but they’ve obviously seized an opportunity that they think they can exploit. Because there were no links in the Met Office article, I decided to scan though both the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency websites for more information regarding the mission which the Met Office are so excited about, only to find nothing which rather surprised me, although I did find an article in Nature about it.
This may sound very petty, which undoubtedly it is, but thirty years ago as an observer at Kinloss when the WMO dropped the 9 group for the reporting of aurora from the SYNOP, the Met Office couldn’t have cared less if you had observed one or not, but today it’s now a core component of their ‘space weather’ forecast and big business!
While I’m talking about very ‘petty things’ and the sun, I would just like to mention someone called Piers Corbyn, you know the brother of the leader of the Labour party (fig 3). Many people dismiss his claims about how much of an influence the sun has on the weather on the surface of the earth. Personally I too think the sun has more influence on the weather than we currently realise, and rather than reading another article about just how a CME can knock out satellites in orbit and creates the aurora, I would much rather read an article about just what the Met Office does with the rest of the data it receive from these satellites that are constantly watching the sun, and how they make use of it in the various NWP and climate models that they run. For all I know the solar output could be just a fixed constant in some Fortran header file used in all of their models, but that could be me just being cynical.
The current sunspot cycle 24 that started in January 2008 is scheduled to draw to a close after 11 years sometime in 2019 (fig 1). Already the number of spot-free days has started to increase over the last few months as we approach the minimum (fig 2), and 2018 could end up to be a very quiet year for sunspots.
The latest thinking about the next cycle is that it will commence sometime late in 2019, with the next maximum occurring in 2024. Most forecasts are predicting that cycle 25 will be even quieter than cycle 24, with only half as many sunspots.
The latest TSI figures for 2017 show the gradual reduction, albeit very small, of TSI since 2015 (fig 3).
You may ask what’s an article about sunspots doing in a blog about weather and climate, the simple answer to that is there would be no weather or climate if it wasn’t for the presence of the sun and the energy that we receive from it.
This story has got very little to do with weather or climate, but what the hell I found it interesting, and it’s worth it just for this beautiful picture of the fireball as it plunges to earth as seen from the Dolomites in northern Italy (fig 1).
“Taken in subfreezing temperatures, the thoughtfully composed photo shows snowy, rugged peaks seen from a mountain pass on November 14. Below lies the village of La Villa, Alta Badia in Italy’s Dolomite Alps. Above the nestled village lights, the constellation Ursa Major hangs over the northern horizon. But most stunning is the intense fireball meteor. It was captured during the camera’s exposure by chance as it flashed east to west across the northern horizon, under Ursa Major’s familiar Big Dipper asterism. In fact, sightings of this major fireball meteor were widely reported in European skies, the most reported fireball event ever for planet Earth’s American Meteor Society and the International Meteor Organization. The meteor’s measured track over Germany is consistent with its origin near the active radiant of November’s Taurid Meteor Shower. Taurid meteors are associated with dust from Encke’s comet.”
The link in the article takes you to the American Meteor Society (you’d better believe it) where you can report any fireball that you might have seen. Below is a heatmap of the 2,009 sightings that they received for fireball 4299-2017, and an approximate track that the fireball took as it entered the atmosphere over central Germany (fig 2). Of course it could have just as easily have been an interstellar spacecraft sent from the planet Krypton just before it exploded…
Back in good old Blighty, you would have been hard pressed to see it in the eastern sky thanks to all the cloud around on Tuesday evening (fig 2).
I hope the Telegraph don’t mind, but I had to copy this story of theirs about an Asteroid with the catchy name of 2012 TC4, which unknown to the vast majority of the world’s population of 7,573,647,666*, passed quite close to the earth this morning at around 0542 UTC. I feel that the story quite neatly dovetails in with that of the previous one about hurricane Ophelia. I haven’t watched the news on TV today, so hopefully 2012 TC4, which is travelling at close to 30,000 mph according to the EarthSky.org did keep its distance 30,000 miles above Antarctica as is predicted.
Here’ an additional chart (fig 1) that compares Total Solar Irradiance [TSI] and the CRUTEM4 global temperature series since 1850, to use in comparison with the climate graphs that I published yesterday for mean temperatures in the UK since 1910-2016. The TSI data is still missing for last year, it’s also a bit crude as it’s an annual rather than a monthly value. Don’t ask me why the TSI values are so crude, especially now in the 21st century, it’s probably because the reconstructed series predates the monthly CET and starts in 1610 (todo: develop a CET/TSI comparison graph back to 1659). As you can see that TSI is strongly correlated with the sunspot cycle which I wrote an article about the other day.
I was just looking back at the sunspot count during 2016 to see how Solar cycle 24 was doing. Solar cycle 24, is the 24th solar cycle since 1755 and it started in 2008, and there has always been a tremendous debate about just how intense it would be which is well described in the Wikipedia article about it. Suffice it to say, it’s looking like it’s the weakest 11 year sunspot cycle in over 100 years, and has prompted discussion that the Sun might be entering a ‘Maunder’ minimum phase as it did between 1645 and 1715. Anyway this is a chart (fig 2) of the last three cycles using the latest available SIDC data.
This chart is a close-up of cycle 24 (fig 3):
As you can see there are around three years to the end of cycle 24 sometime in 2019, and it’s already declined significantly. There were 32 ‘spotless’ days in 2016, and things are looking terminal for cycle 24. Even in today’s image of the solar disk (fig 1), there are only a couple of groups of spots on the eastern limb.
So what does this mean for global temperatures if anything?
Well the maximum of cycle 24 occurred coincidentally at a time of record high global temperatures both on land, and at sea, and at a time of declining Arctic sea ice, and also at the same time one of the strongest (if not the strongest) El Nino event was recorded. As far as I’m aware cycle 24 is also coincident with low North Atlantic Hurricanes numbers, low Tornadic activity in North America, and the collapse of the QBO last year, please correct me if I’m wrong in any of those statements, due to my poor memory I may well be! All of course as I say are totally coincidental, but I for one would like to think that we are on the verge of a new Maunder minimum, which would counter the recent increases in global temperatures, but that’s a long-shot, and far too early to tell.