when you thought you were safe with the Y2k bug dead and everything, now
comes word of SM2K. (Stop hyperventilating: it's not millennial
kinkiness!) SM2K is pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo for Solar Max 2000 (another
bit of mumbo-jumbo), and they both refer to a peak expected this year in
the current cycle of sunspot activity, the 23rd "Schwabe cycle". Reliable
study of sunspot cycles began when Heinrich Schwabe started counting sunspots
in 1826. He waited until 1843 before he was certain enough of what he was
seeing to tell the rest of the world by publishing his discovery of eleven-year
sunspot periodicity in Astronomische Nacrichten. The rest of the
world took no notice, however, until Alexander von Humboldt published Shwabe's
updated results in Kosmos in 1851. Other scientists then counted
backwards based on more fragmentary reports, and the now 250+ year-old
chronicle of 23 Schwabe sunspot cycles was thus established. The current
cycle appears to be bigger than "normal" but not a record breaker.
It is now known that the sun's magnetic
field reverses between sunspot peaks so complete cycles of solar activity
actually last 22 years, and there are two Schwabe cycles in each overall
solar activity cycle. There may be even larger solar activity structures
-- perhaps super-cycles of 88 years -- but the jury on that is still out.
Dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, is already being invoked to
provide evidence of even bigger "super-super-cycles".
Information about the current cycle
is easy to come by: the good people at NASA have put it all on the Internet
for us at http://wwwistp.gsfc.nasa.gov/istp/outreach/solarmax/index.html
and at http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/max/index.html.
And it's good information to have,
because, unlike the Y2K nonsense, based on information from the last sunspot
peak in 1989, there are likely to be real consequences. http://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/poetry/storm/storms.html.
For more general information about
the sun, go to