A prominent solar physicist is predicting an early peak for the current solar cycle—already a more active cycle than its predecessor—with the expected termination event that will signal the height of solar activity being pushed forward to either late this year or early 2024, a year earlier than what previous forecasts predicted.

Solar cycle 25 got underway in December 2019, and despite earlier predictions to the contrary, wound up being far more active than the previous cycle; the majority of predictions called for another period with little activity, to the extent that there were concerns that the Sun may enter another decades-long period of prolonged quiet, similar to the Maunder Minimum that lasted from 1645 to 1715.

The current cycle was expected to peak sometime in 2025, but a new analysis from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) points to a crescendo that may occur at least a year earlier than that, and possibly as soon as the end of 2023. NCAR analyzed historical solar activity data that dates back to 1750 and, applying modern datasets to the historical, found that the patterns point to an early peak for solar cycle 25.

“This is based on our work with the Termination Event,” explains NCAR Deputy Director Scott McIntosh. A relatively new theory regarding solar activity—and the one that enabled McIntosh and his colleague Bob Leamon to accurately predict that cycle 25 would be more active than expected—a “termination event” occurs when the oppositely-charged magnetic bands that migrate from the Sun’s poles meet at the equator, cancelling, or terminating, one-another. This termination event appears to be linked to the mid-cycle flip of the Sun’s magnetic field when north becomes south, and south becomes north.

According to data collected by Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory the weakening of the Sun’s magnetic fields that precedes the pole flip is already underway, with the field strength projected to drop to zero within a few months. These patterns point to a termination event that will occur sometime between later this year and early 2024, instead of sometime in 2025 as previously forecast.

“Historically the zero crossing precedes actual sunspot number maximum by 6 to 12 months,” says McIntosh, “so this is in accord with our prediction of an early Solar Max.”

Leamon and McIntosh’s research suggests that the length of solar cycles tends to correlate with their intensity, with cycles of a shorter duration seeing more activity than longer ones; this was the basis for their prediction that solar cycle 25 would be a strong one.

Although there has been no indication that the expected end date of 2030 for the current cycle has changed, there is always the chance that the increased solar activity over the next few years might produce a civilization-threatening solar storm on par with 1859’s Carrington Event. Whitley outlines what needs to be done to avoid such a disaster in his 2012 ebook Solar Flares: What You Need to Know.

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