I’ve been watching the Sun for the past few days and was not seeing any spots. We are nearing solar minimum so a spotless sun is not unusual every now and then plus I was only using binoculars and sometimes miss spots near the limbs. I looked three days running and saw nothing; I was not able to look yesterday as I was in the midst of a 25 cm snowstorm.
This morning I saw on NASA the Sun was spotless for nearly two weeks and now finally there are a couple of groups coming into view. Does this mean we’ve reached bottom in the solar cycle and we’re starting to climb? No, notice how the sunspots are near the equator of the Sun, typically we would want to see high-latitude formation as a new cycle indicator and there just isn’t anything going on in those locations.
We can also look at a plot of the solar cycle progression over a few cycles. If we do that over the long-term we find the average cycle lasts about 11 years. So, between solar cycle peaks (or valleys) there is an average of 11 years and the time from the top of a cycle and the bottom of a cycle is about 5.5 years and looking at the chart below from the US Space Weather Prediction Service we see it has been about four-years since the peak. Remember that 11 years is an average and the actual can vary. It’s a good time to keep watching every now and then we could be on a short cycle. Watching where the sunspots form will tell the story.