September 15, 2013 - ALL QUIET ALERT:
With the Sun's disk almost completely devoid of sunspots, solar flare activity has come to a halt. Measurements by NOAA's GOES 15 satellite show that the sun's global x-ray emission, a key metric of solar activity, has flatlined:
The quiet is unlikely to break this weekend. NOAA forecasters estimate a scant 1% chance of M- or X-class solar flares during the next 24-48 hours.
The quiet spell is a bit strange because 2013 is supposed to be a year of solar maximum, with lots of flares and sunspots. Supporting this view are data from NASA-supported observatories which show that the sun's magnetic field is poised to flip - a long-held sign that Solar Max has arrived. Nevertheless, solar activity is low.
One possible explanation is that Solar Max is double-peaked and we are in the valley between peaks. If so, solar activity could surge again in late 2013-2014. No one can say for sure, though. Researchers have been studying sunspots for more than 400 years, and we still cannot predict the behavior of the solar cycle. Continued quiet or stormy space weather? Both are possible in the weeks and months ahead.