Research Highlight

New model predicts intensity of next sunspot cycle

doi:10.1038/nindia.2018.161 Published online 6 December 2018

Astrophysicists at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata predict that the next sunspot cycle — marked by a phase of strong magnetic fields on the Sun's surface — will likely be similar or stronger than the one happening now1. They also rule out the possibilities of solar activity disappearing or a global cooling event unfolding over the next decade. 

The strength of the sunspot cycle determines how hazardous environmental conditions in space are likely to be. Predicting this strength would help protect satellites and space-reliant services such as telecommunications and navigational networks.

The Sun flips its magnetic field every 11 years and the number of sunspots also changes according to that cycle. It is difficult to predict the strength of the sunspot cycles. Previous studies were able to forecast the strength only 5 years in advance. 

Analysing sunspot cycle data over 100 years, the research team led by Dibyendu Nandy reports that the next sunspot cycle 25 — that is expected to peak in 2024 — will be as strong or likely stronger than the ongoing sunspot cycle 24.

The scientists used two computer-based models to study past solar activity based on sunspot numbers. One of the models simulates the Sun’s surface layer, while the other simulates the Sun's interior. The surface model data was then combined with the internal model of the Sun to predict the sunspot cycles.

The space environment would, however, remain similar to that observed during the past decade with the total number and frequency of space storms lower than the past 50 year averages, Nandy says.


1. Bhowmik, P. & Nandy, D. Prediction of the strength and timing of sunspot cycle 25 reveal decadal-scale space environmental conditions. Nat. Commun.  9, 5209 (2018) doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-07690-0