Sunspots Are on the Rise?
My dad is an inveterate sunspot watcher. He once spent 11 years charting sunspots, drawing a solar chart with its sunspots for each day — he’s that into the phenomenon. Of course, he noticed right away that the motions of sunspots follow a path as the Sun rotates, and he charted the solar max and min for that time. He’s not a trained astronomer — he’s an acute observer and his fascination with the Sun and its activity is a marvelous thing.
Some years ago he had the chance to chat with then-director of AAVSO, the late Dr. Janet Mattei. He told her about his 11 years of hand-drawn charts and she was astounded at what he’d done — and remarked at how detailed his drawings were. Daddy and Janet had a long chat about sunspots and observing them and how the Sun is a variable star. I think that visit with Janet remains one of Daddy’s most treasured memories. Well, that, and being able to visit Harvard Observatory for the Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin centenary that year.
We just spent a few days in Arizona for the holidays, and to celebrate Daddy’s 80th birthday. Even though he’s hospitalized right now, Daddy’s still going strong for sunspots — so much so that now I always think of them as “Dadspots”.
He’s not dragging the sunscope out so much, but nowadays does his sunspot-spotting via the World Wide Web. He mentioned to me the other day that he’d noticed more sunspots and we talked awhile about the coming rise in solar activity that always accompanies a solar maximum (in the 11-year cycle of solar activity). He’d already noticed the sunspot group 1039, which is part of the new solar cycle 24 that will let us see a steady rise in activity over the next few years. And, I expect Daddy’ll keep his attention focused on sunspots (Dadspots) — as long as he can.
How much activity can we expect? Even though December 2009 sunspot numbers were up, the new solar cycle is predicted to be below average in intensity compared to solar maxima of other years. Even so, the current rise in sunspots and solar activity (if it continues) will be a relief to solar researchers after the long sunspot drought we’ve had over the past couple of years. Everybody’s keeping an eye on the Sun (well, not literally — NEVER look at the Sun directly without proper protection) to see if the rise in spots will continue.
For my part, to honor my dad’s life-long interest in sunspots, I’m renaming this new cycle the “John H. Collins, Sr. Solar Cycle.” Of course, it’s completely unofficial, but if you’d like to use that name in blog posts and tweets, I’m sure he would be honored. Let’s hope for more Dadspots!