Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA Scientist Improves Solar Predictions

January 27, 2000
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
When the Sun revs up in its 11-year cycle of solar flares and other activity, it can disrupt satellites, cell phones and city power grids. Now a solar physicist at the Marshall Center has a better way to predict their frequency.

Solar flares can happen at any time and are difficult to predict, but a solar physicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has devised a better way to predict their frequency.

Related Articles

Every 11 years, the Sun spawns a flurry of sunspots, solar flares and other explosive events -- the result of cyclical shifts in the gaseous orb’s magnetic field. Such events can happen any time in the Sun’s 11-year cycle, which is akin to Earth’s year. But at the peak of the cycle, called "solar maximum" or "solar max," they’re particularly plentiful.

Using a new forecasting technique, Dr. David Hathaway, leader of the Marshall Center’s solar physics group, predicts "this cycle looks like it’s going to be bigger than average, but probably similar to the last two cycles or perhaps slightly smaller," he said.

Scientists have been watching and charting the Sun’s explosive activity since Galileo invented the telescope in the early 1600s. But while they’ve been able to followthe 11-year cycle, they’ve had little success predicting a cycle’s month-to-month intensity in terms of the number of sunspots. The sunspots are the precursors to solar flares and other events.

"If you look at it from day to day, the Sun’s activity fluctuates wildly over the course of a month," Hathaway said. "If you look at the monthly values, they fluctuate wildly, as well."

Prior to the Space Age, the most visible effect of solar activity was the showy aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, Hathaway said. "Because we’re more dependent on technology now -- in particular as we venture into space – it’s more important for us to understand solar activity and predict it reliably so people can take the necessary precautions."

For instance, during the solar max of 1989, such a "solar power surge" damaged transformers of the Hydro-Quebec power system, leaving 6 million people in Canada and the Northeast United States powerless for more than nine hours.

Scientists have worked for decades with dozens of prediction techniques, focusing on two methods to forecast sunspots: long-term predictions for the size of the next cycle and month-to-month forecasts within a given cycle. At best, their results have been mediocre. The long-term predictions, called precursor methods, only forecast a cycle’s general intensity. And the month-to-month forecasts were accurate only in the middle of a cycle.

Hathaway analyzed scores of techniques, combining the best of both methods. He took two precursor methods that generally scored much better than others and usually had offsetting errors, and combined them into a weighted value. These values were then used with a bell curve of monthly sunspot activity. When he aligned the low points of the curve with low points of the current solar activity cycle, he found the results were better than expected.

"Three out of the last four months have been right on what we have predicted," he said.

Hathaway predicts solar max 2000 will reach its peak in mid to late 2000, but high levels of activity will continue well into 2001. "The sunspot maximum is usually a broad peak," he said. "There is a two- or three-year period when activity is quite high." Still, he said, solar max 2000 will be "no record-breaker."

- 30 -

Note to Editors / News Directors: For an interview with Hathaway, or photos and video supporting this release, please contact Steve Roy of the Marshall Media Relations Department at (256) 544-0034.

Members of the media: To receive Marshall releases by e-mail instead of fax, please e-mail judy.pettus@msfc.nasa.gov. Include the name of your media outlet, your title, mailing address, phone and fax numbers, and the headline of this news release.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Cite This Page:

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "NASA Scientist Improves Solar Predictions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 January 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/01/000126173053.htm>.
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. (2000, January 27). NASA Scientist Improves Solar Predictions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/01/000126173053.htm
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "NASA Scientist Improves Solar Predictions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/01/000126173053.htm (accessed April 2, 2015).

Share This

More From ScienceDaily

More Space & Time News

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Universe Could Be Full Of Tatooine Sunsets

The Universe Could Be Full Of Tatooine Sunsets

Newsy (Mar. 30, 2015) — University of Utah researchers say mathematical simulations show small, rocky planets, like Tatooine from "Star Wars," can form in dual-star systems. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
What NASA Wants To Learn From Its 'Year In Space' Tests

What NASA Wants To Learn From Its 'Year In Space' Tests

Newsy (Mar. 28, 2015) — Astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend a year in space running tests on human physiology and psychology. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Astronauts Arrive at ISS for 1-Year Mission

Raw: Astronauts Arrive at ISS for 1-Year Mission

AP (Mar. 28, 2015) — The capsule carrying a Russian and an American who are to spend a year away from Earth docked Saturday with the International Space Station. (March 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Crew Starts One-Year Space Mission

Crew Starts One-Year Space Mission

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 28, 2015) — Russian-U.S. crew arrives safely at the International Space Station for the start of a ground-breaking year-long stay. Paul Chapman reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.


Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News


Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins